While the United States is learning how to make the most of its reusable shuttle, Soviet planners continue to push toward human settlement of space. A study released today by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) sums up Soviet space policy this way: "The Soviet space station [Salyut] program is the cornerstone of an official policy which looks not only toward a permanent Soviet human presence in low-Earth orbit but also toward permanent human settlement of their people on the Moon and Mars."
The OTA adds that "the Soviets take quite seriously the possibility that large numbers of their citizens will one day live in space."
This year-long study of the progress of what OTA calls "the other major spacefaring nation" underscores what experts, including Soviet officials, have said about the Soviet Union's space planning for 15 years.
While the Soviets, like the US, are exploring space scientifically and learning to use it for commercial and military purposes, their overall strategy is guided by a conviction of manifest destiny, the report suggests. Thus their program has been developed to give them capabilities which, at this stage, the US does not possess.
AS the OTA observes, "the Soviets are more knowledgeable than the Unied States in space biology and medicine; in a number of technical areas, notably in the use of automated docking systems, they routinely use techniques that the United States has never demonstrated."
The OTA is an analytical agency of the Congress. It undertakes studies such as this on request, but does not recommend what US policy should be. Thus the present analysis is not a critique of the US program in the light of what the Soviets are doing. It merely tries to give Congress and the US public a knowledgeable look at the Soviet effort.
Its comments about Soviet leadership in certain areas does not imply that the US lags in those areas in some critical sense.
The OTA is careful to stress that the US has leadership in areas it has chosen to emphasize, such as planetary exploration and the space shuttle.
Nevertheless, its study leaves little doubt that, unless the Soviets are to be the original space settlers, the US to will have to move toward some form of permanent space station, as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration now wants to do. E next page&gt;
For example, there continues to be debate in the US as to how much can be done by automated systems as opposed to using astronauts.
The Soviets, who have emphasized automation, nonetheless are moving strongly toward a permanently manned station. In light of this, OTA comments:
"There is a certain degree of unreality about this debate [in the US] because it cannot yet be grounded in extensive experience. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, can draw on a much greater fund of experience as they implement plans for integrating human and machine capabilities for work on future space stations."
The OTA analysis is based on the most extensive nonsecret discussions by US experts have yet held on this subject. And, in spite of cold war tension, it is supplemented by a lengthy memorandum from the Soviet Union setting forth details of its Salyut space station effort.
The bottom line is that the Soviet Union is more earnest than is the US about space settlement. As the OTA notes, "Soviet policy . . . includes the goal of learning how human beings may reside permanently in space, both as an end in itself and as a means of serving their national purposes. To date, the United States has not committed itself to permanent human occupancy of space as a national goal."