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Special Message to the Senate on Transmitting the Treaty on Outer Space

February 07, 1967

To the Senate of the United States:

I am today transmitting to the Senate, for your advice and consent, the first Treaty on Outer Space.

The provisions of this Treaty reflect the will and desire of the signatory states, already numbering more than half the nations of the world, that the realms of space should forever remain realms of peace.

The privilege of transmitting this milestone agreement to you before the end of the first decade of space exploration is especially gratifying for me.

Only ten years ago, as a Senator, I chaired the first Congressional hearings called to determine what response our national policy should make to the challenges of the exploration of outer space. The hearings and the events of those times seem now a world away for us all. Yet I remember--as I know you do-the climate of great awe and greater anxiety in which Senators addressed themselves to their responsibilities.

At that time:

--No American satellite had yet been orbited.

--The readiness of our rockets was much in question.

--There was no NASA, no vast complex at what is now Cape Kennedy, no Manned Space flight Center at Houston. The very word, "astronaut," was not in our vocabulary.

--Men questioned the capacity of our educational system to yield up the incalculably valuable resource of minds trained for the great tasks of the space age.

--The stature of our advanced technology and our ability to .participate as leaders in the explorations of the universe was far from being established with certainty.

In that uncertain climate, our concerns about space were quite different from now. We were rightly concerned for the safety of our nation and for the survival of humankind. We directed our concern to the organization of our society and to the priority of our values as free men.

In November 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked me to appear before the United Nations to present the United States resolution urging that the exploration of outer space be undertaken for peaceful purposes, as an enterprise of international cooperation among all member nations.

On that occasion, speaking for the United States, I said:

"Today, outer space is free. It is unscarred by conflict. No nation holds a concession there. It must remain this way. We of the United States do not acknowledge that there are landlords of outer space who can presume to bargain with the nations of the Earth on the price of access to this domain. We must not--and we need not--corrupt this great opportunity by bringing to it the very antagonisms which we may, by courage, overcome and leave behind forever if we proceed with this joint adventure into this new realm.

"We know the gains of cooperation. We know the losses of the failure to cooperate. If we fail now to apply the lessons we have learned, or even if we delay their application, we know that the advances into space may only mean adding a new dimension to warfare. If, however, we proceed along the orderly course of full cooperation we shall, by the very fact of cooperation, make the most substantial contribution toward perfecting peace.

"Men who have worked together to reach the stars are not likely to descend together into the depths of war and desolation."

I believe those words remain valid today. The "very fact of cooperation" in the evolution of this Treaty is to be taken as a "substantial contribution toward perfecting peace." As long ago as 1958, President Eisenhower initiated an exchange of letters with the leadership of the Soviet Union, seeking agreements binding the uses of outer space to peaceful purposes. President Kennedy repeatedly reaffirmed our willingness to cooperate toward these ends.

In October 1963, the General Assembly of the United Nations called on nations of the world not to station nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. Two months later the Assembly adopted a Declaration of Legal Principles to govern activities in space. On May 7, last year, I repeated, and Ambassador Goldberg reiterated many times thereafter, our view of the urgency of doing all that we could to assure that exploration of outer space would take place in peace, for peaceful ends.

In July 1966, negotiations on the Treaty were formally begun at Geneva in the 28-member United Nations Outer Space Committee. Accord was subsequently reached at renewed negotiations in New York. The Treaty was unanimously endorsed by the Twenty-first Session of the General Assembly just over a month ago.

On January 27, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies was opened for signature in Washington, London and Moscow. The United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union were among the sixty countries signing the Treaty in Washington. Other nations are expected to add their signatures in the near future.

The climate in which such accord has been reached is clearly an encouraging omen for continuing in other realms our constant quest for understandings that will strengthen the chances for peace.


In the diplomacy of space, as in the technology of space, it is essential always that interim achievements not be mistaken for final success. This Treaty I transmit to the Senate today is such an interim achievement--a significant, but not a final step forward.

It carries forward the thrust of the past decade to enlarge the perimeters of peace by shrinking the arenas of potential conflict. This is a thrust to which the Senate has given its support by ratifying the four Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea in 1958, the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

As we have dealt with the sea, the atmosphere and the vast unpopulated continent of Antarctica, now in this Treaty we extend reason to the activities of nations in the endless realm of outer space.

The Treaty lays down fundamental principles:
--No nation can claim sovereignty to outer space, to the moon or to other celestial bodies.

--All nations have the right to conduct space activities.

--No one may use outer space or celestial bodies to begin a war. The rules of the United Nations Charter apply to space activities.

--No country may station in space or orbit around the Earth nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

--No country may install such weapons on a celestial body.

--No nation may establish military bases, installations or fortifications, on a celestial body. Nor may any weapons be tested or military maneuvers be conducted there. The right to visit another country's installations and space vehicles on a celestial body is guaranteed.

--Astronauts are "envoys of mankind." If an astronaut lands on another country's

--soil, he must be returned safely,

--promptly and unconditionally.

--Space activities and their results are to be reported for the benefit of all.

--Each country is to avoid harmfully contaminating outer space and adversely changing the environment of the Earth by introducing extra-terrestrial matter.

These and other provisions of the Treaty are described in detail in the accompanying report of the Secretary of State.


Space exploration has become an intimate part of our lives. The exploits of men and machines in outer space excite and thrill us all. The valiant young men who have become symbolic of our national effort as Astronauts are close to every American family. The deaths in line of duty of Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Grissom, Lieutenant Colonel Edward White and Lieutenant Commander Roger Chaffee touched every American home and heart.1

1 See Item 19.

Yet, we must remember that these are only primitive years in the epoch of space exploration and utilization--an epoch that will run to the end of time. In the next decade and in all the decades to come, the capabilities of nations in space will multiply far beyond our comprehension today. If we should flag or falter in our support of this great extension of human knowledge, the concern and anxiety we felt so keenly a decade ago would be known again to other Americans in future times.

When we ask what this nation or any nation expects to find from exploration in space, the answer is one word: knowledge-knowledge we shall need to maintain Earth as a habitable environment for man.

The resources of this planet are already taxed to support human existence. Now and even more each day, as the family of man increases so rapidly, fertile soil, clear water, clean air and a safe atmosphere all become more precious to men and nations than the metals and jewels of ages past.

The quest for gold and silver, and diamonds and rubies, once lead men to explore the Earth seeking enrichment for themselves and their nations. So now the realities of this and future ages require that nations pursue together the exploration of space within this galaxy, seeking new knowledge and new capabilities to enrich the life of all mankind.

The future leaves no option. Responsible men must push forward in the exploration of space, near and far. Their voyages must be made in peace for purposes of peace on earth. This Treaty is a step--a first step, but a long step--toward assuring the peace essential for the longer journey.

I strongly recommend--in appropriate commemoration of the Senate's own role in charting the course that the world now seems willing to follow--that the Senate act promptly in giving consent to the ratification of this Treaty. I hope that I may be able to affirm as President of the United States, what I said as a Senator to the United Nations in 1958:

"On the goal of dedicating outer space to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind, there are no differences within our government, between our parties or among our people."

The White House
February 7, 1967

Note: The treaty was favorably considered by the Senate on April 25, 1967, and after ratification entered into force on October 10, 1967. It was proclaimed by the President on October 10, 1967.

The text of the treaty is printed in Senate Executive D (90th Cong., 1st sess.).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Senate on Transmitting the Treaty on Outer Space Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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