85. National Security Council Under Secretaries Decision Memorandum 1131 2


  • NASA Request for Guidance on Cooperation with the Soviet Union in Remote Sensing of the Environment

On May 10, 1973, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration requested assurance of the Administration’s continuing concurrence in cooperation between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences in remote sensing of the natural environment through surface, air and space observations. NASA’s concerns were directed toward possible economic or commercial advantages that the Soviet Union might gain from this cooperative program. NASA’s request has been reviewed by the Under Secretaries Committee, whose findings and recommendation are presented below.

The Problem

This cooperative program stems from an agreement between NASA and the Soviet Academy in January 1971. The agency-level agreement was explicitly subsumed under Article I of the Agreement Between the U.S. and Soviet Union concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes that you and Mr. Kosygin signed in Moscow May 24, 1972.

The principal objective of the remote sensing project is to exchange experience regarding the utility and methodology of remote sensing in such fields as geology, agriculture and hydrology. No exchange of “hardware” is involved. Economic and [Page 2] commercial implications arise from the fact that data derived from space observations could aid in such activities as, for example, estimating world grain harvests and locating potential mineral deposits. The question arises whether the Soviet Union enjoys a significant advantage from implementation of this project.


In view of the description provided by NASA of benefits which might be conveyed to the Soviet Union through the bilateral relationship in earth sensing, and recognizing the open availability and basically scientific nature of the information that NASA has exchanged and proposes to exchange, we conclude that there is no basis for concern with the implications of the cooperative program from the standpoint of our economic and commercial interests or with respect to its security and arms control implications. On the other hand, termination of the program might have adverse effects on the broad space agreement of May 24, 1972. Termination of the program might also adversely affect our efforts to achieve at least a limited understanding with the USSR about the approaches we take in the United Nations toward the political and legal questions raised by observation of the earth for environment and resource purposes.

For these reasons it is recommended that NASA continue the bilateral relationship in the earth sensing field while seeking to develop more symmetric patterns of exchange of technical and scientific information.

A study of broader policy questions related to the earth resources survey satellite program is currently being prepared pursuant to NSSM 72 (International Cooperation in Outer Space), and an examination of policy alternatives will be forwarded to you at a future time. Should this study lead to decisions at variance with continued cooperation with the Soviet Union in this field, the matter could be reviewed again later.

Kenneth Rush
  1. Source: Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Outer Space, Box 1, EX, OS Outer Space, 1–1–73. Confidential. Forwarded to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. Copies were sent to the Departments of Commerce and Interior.
  2. The memorandum recommended to the President continued cooperation with the USSR on remote sensing initiatives, while attempting to gain more scientific and technical information from the Soviets.