The welfare level of countries and whether their institutions’ structure is inclusive or not determines the balance of political power in international relations. What determines the nature of these factors throughout history has changed with the developing world. One of them is the dominancy of the countries in space exploration. Space exploration initiated a new era, directed the free market, and led to the new sectors’ formation. Today, it is seen that the countries working in this field are the countries that determine the dominancy of power in international politics. Thus, in this article, the history of space exploration and the cold war period have been examined. In light of this examination, how and why space research affects countries’ international positions are answered. At this stage, information published by the institutions of the related countries is consulted. After this, to determine Turkey’s status in this context, the development process of this country’s space policies is reviewed. Finally, the national space program, which is a current issue, is discussed in detail. 


Cold War, International Relations, Space Exploration, Space Race, Turkey Space Program.


     In humankind’s history, people have always tried to make sense of the sky, attributed different values to it, and conducted scientific research to reach the truth. This was a fruitful process for history because the curiosity encoded in people’s genes has always pushed them to broaden their horizons. For example, the exploration of sky has always found its reflections through religions, architectural tendencies, novels and poems, and most notably in science. On the other hand, their shadows have been revealed in political and economic intuitions, which intrinsically affect the balance of global political power and safety. The church’s efforts to prevent many era-changing inventions such as Galileo Galilei’s inventions and theories played a significant role in the formation and stability of extractive institutions in the country that were constantly stuck in the same place. At the same time, air movements and their compatibility with machines resulted in the invention of airships. The countries producing and marketing this invention invested in the idea of armament and actively used it in the wars that determined their institutions’ structure even today. As Daron Acemoğlu mentioned in his book “Why Nations Fail,” history’s contingency character is mostly shaped by events at critical junctures. Besides, the countries’ attitudes at this process are the determinants of today’s welfare and power levels. This fact, which affects the international balance, has made the race between countries inevitable (Acemoğlu, Rabinson, 2012)

International Space Station, NASA (2016)

     Undoubtedly, the space race’s beginning dates back to the cold war between Soviet Union and American Federation. After World War 2, to restore the balance power, maximize their political stage in the international era, and bring the ideology clash to which they are a party to result, these states have resorted to the armament and started a race (Srivastava, n.d.). Its reflection through space began with the launch of the Sputnik-1 into orbit by Russia on October 4, 1957. And it continued by Sputnik-2 (“Timeline of Cold War”, n.d.). This success of Russia was the first touch to space and consequently affected the whole world’s political balance. The poem written by the G. Mennen Williams, the Democratic governor of Michigan, in those years set an explanatory example; 

“Oh little Sputnik, flying high

 With a made-in-Moscow beep, 

 You tell the world it’s a Commie sky

 and Uncle Sam’s asleep.” (Launius, n.d.).

It can be understood from the poem that these achievements determine regional and international power and affect the understanding of sovereignty. Moreover, an emphasis of recession and a criticism of the American Government can be seen in the poem’s fourth line by the word “asleep”. However, the American awakening was not late because these Sputnik projects have become the driving force. Therefore, America’s first satellite Explorer-1 launched into space, and NASA formally opened on October 1, 1958, by Dwight Eisenhower ( NASA, 2008). 

     In this way, the space research foundation has started from these dates, and it continued to be relevant and negotiable. Several satellites were sent to space for use in different areas such as military, communication, and meteorological purpose of satellites (Aydın, 1991), and new missions were planned. Also, new institutions and the cooperation between them were provided such that by the decisions, new missions were planned. Therefore, animals could reach the stars, and humans made a “giant leap for mankind” by traveling beyond the earth for the first time (NASA, n.d.).

    All advances and progress led to increased knowledge and the feel of competition about space and started a different era. Science and technology have gained around in world history. Firstly, the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG, 2013) states, “Space exploration has contributed to many diverse aspects of everyday life, from solar panels to implantable heart monitors, from cancer therapy to lightweight materials, and from water‐purification systems to improved computing systems and a global search‐and‐rescue system”. Therefore, the countries engaged in space research have become the pioneers of these innovations. Indeed, competition between countries has contributed to the expansion of the market, the socio-economic advancement for the states, and the increase in employment by creating of new market positions (ESA, 2018). The national policies of the America supporting private companies’ participation in space exploration in the 1980s and 1990s can set an example for the expansion of the global market (Örki & Erdem, 2019). Secondly, observation and meteorology satellites sent to space make it possible to reach information about the world’s underground wealth, where and how dense these materials are, the possibility of natural disasters and destruction, and even the aboveground wealth of a country. It can be an example that experts in the USA in 1977 determined the Soviet wheat production rates before the Soviet Government reveals it (Aydın, 1991). Thus, space exploration provides countries an economic power. As Daron Acemoğlu indicates in his book, this kind of development lead to an improved economy, and eventually, they affect the power equilibrium in the international stage (Acemoğlu, Rabinson, 2012).

     On the other hand, the vehicles sent after access to space and advancing technology caused an arms race between countries. As mentioned by NASA, America and European countries were worried that Russia would use different weapons of mass destruction like nuclear bombs (NASA, n.d.). Thus, outer space has become a military threat for the world (Örki & Erdem, 2019). Therefore, a series of agreements were prepared and signed with the United Nations’ contribution and international cooperation, which will continue from 1958 to 1967. One of them is the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. With this agreement, it is aimed to prevent the monopolization of the space with the claim of sovereignty, military maneuvers in outer space, or the establishment of the bases. Thus, space has become an area where peaceful policies are carried out, and projects are prepared in international cooperation (Outer Space Treaty, 1967). 

     Space exploration’s advantages for the army are not limited to technological contribution to the armament. Furthermore, with satellites and devices sent to space, systems called GNSS, which provide location and time information, have been developed. Thus, as indicated by Dr. Bilge Demirköz, the director of the Research and Application Center for Space and Accelerator Technologies in Middle East Technical University, crucial and vital information that will be useful for military unity began to be transmitted from space to the world (D.W., 2021). Today, the countries that own these satellites can monitor other countries’ military regions, their armament rates and be aware of possible war or destruction. Therefore, it can be said that space exploration provide countries’ armies many opportunities to be ready, to prepare policies and missions by looking at this information. 

     Considering all the pros and cons, it is clear that humanity’s space travel has multi-track effects. However, it is of utmost importance that the impact on technological, economic, and military fields, which are mentioned, is also reflected in the international power balances and the countries’ prestige at the end of the day. All the projects carried out were seen as a matter of sovereignty, security. For instance, in a congressional speech in 1961, Kennedy said they were all “a key to our future on Earth” (Kennedy, 1961). Thus, considering the acute effects of the space’s discovery, it eventually becomes an event that included other world countries rather than a race between two states. 

     Today, many countries, especially America, Russia, China, and the United Nations, make forward-looking mission plans and allocate a large budget for space research. The world government expenditures for space programs in 2018 reached 70.9 billion dollars (Seminari, 2019). In today, just NASA’s budget for the fiscal year in 2021 is 23.3 billion (The Lanetary Society, n.d.). However, bearing in mind the fact that most of the time, the return on investment is more than the money spent, and it develops the country in many ways. On the other hand, when the institutions and organizations dealing with this issue in countries are examined, it is clear that most of the countries attach importance to transparency in information and national and international cooperation and coordination between these structures. With all that considered, it is possible to say that space exploration plays a vital role in countries maximizing their political power and that many countries realize this importance.


     Turkey’s researches on space dates back to 20 years before Russian’s Sputnik-1 mission. With the establishment of the Astronomy Department of Istanbul University in 1933, the seeds of institutional studies have been sown. Furthermore, if it is considered the importance of international cooperation to reach more effective and deep-rooted studies in space exploration, Turkey aimed to be active inside the borders and beyond of them. Thus, the Turkish government signed the United Nations Agreement on Principles Governing the Activities of State in Exploration and Utilization of Space on January 26, 1967 (TUA, 2021). Moreover, one year later, it became a member of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT) and established the first telephone channels in Yugoslavia and Iran by seizing this partnership’s opportunity. Thus, the foundation of communication satellites was laid. Another thing is that Turkey has become a member of the European Meteorological Satellites Agency (EUMETSAT). As a result of these attempts, Turkey has gained acceleration on space researches and accomplished to launch many satellites varieties such as Türksat-1B, Türksat-1C, Göktürk-2, or RASAT (TÜRKSAT, n.d.). 

     Turkey’s space programs and researches are continuing today. These studies and missions are carried out with essential projects in many organizations’ infrastructures, especially TUBİTAK Space, TUBİTAK Sage, Delta, Aselsan, TUSAŞ, Roketsan, and other universities such as Istanbul Technical University. However, although the organizations mentioned above make progress in technological studies regarding space, the lack of coordination between these structures, an institution to create a central space exploration plan, and information gathering and dissemination prevent the studies’ acceleration. To prevent these shortcomings and prepare long-lasting missions, the Turkish Space Agency established (T.R. Official Gazette, December 13, 2018, no: 23). The establishment aims to find the most applicable methodology and an appropriate date to reach the aim properly and provide coordination between institutions (TUA, n.d.). In space and aviation science, the reduction of countries’ dependence on foreign countries also provides political assurance. Therefore, with the establishment of this institution, Turkey has taken the most relevant step to restructuring the process to compete in world markets, which is related to the power in the international stage. This is because if the stages are conducted efficiently, this can open up an interesting new avenue regarding the space industry and human sources. Although the institution was established recently, it has succeeded in creating cooperation with twenty countries, five companies, and seven international organizations as the most significant proof of its effectiveness in the international arena (TUA, 2021).


The rode covered so far; the project carried out by institutions and organizations engaged in research is essential to facilitate space exploration and be one of the arbiters in world politics. However, to get these benefits, there are needs for a systematic plan, an allocated budget, adequate technology, and an appropriate calendar. Because space exploration is not a field that can be achieved quickly without periodic goals. On the other hand, the investments of Turkey on this subject will eventually contribute to the equilibrum of power in long-term. 


Acemoğlu, D. & Robinson, J., A. (2012). Why nations fail. Doğan Kitap.

Aydın, C. (July 16, 1991). Uzay araştırmaları önemi ve ülkelerin gelişimine katkısı

DW Turkish. (February 18, 2021). Türkiye’nin milli uzay programı. [Video]. YouTube. 

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">International Space Exploration Coordination Group<em>. </em>(2013). <em>Benefits stemming from space exploration. </em><a href=""></a><em> </em&gt;International Space Exploration Coordination Group. (2013). Benefits stemming from space exploration. 

Kennedy, J., F. (May 25, 1961).  Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961 [Speech]. 

Launius, R., D., Sputnik and Origins of Space Age. 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2008). Why we explore. Steven J. Dick.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (n.d.).  Race to space. 

Örki, A. & Erdem, T. (2019). The evolution of the classical military power understanding in international relations: outer space area. İzmir Katip Çelebi Uniiversity Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences Journal, 2(1), 12-28. 

Seminari, S. (2019, November 24). Op-ed | Global government space budgets continues multiyear rebound. Space News.

Srivastava, S. (n.d.). Cold war: Definition, origin, causes, phases & end . Academia. 

The European Space Agency. (2018). Socio-economic impact of space activities.

The Lanetary Society. NASA’s FY 2021 Budget.

Timeline of cold war, Truman Library.

Turkish Republic Official Gazette. (2018, December 13). Presidential Degree on Turkish Space Agency.

Turkish Space Agency. (2021). International Cooperations.

Turkish Space Agency. (2021). National Space Programme. 

Turkish Space Agency. (2021). Our Space History. 

Turkish Space Agency. (n.d.). Where the Future Begins. 

TÜRKSAT Satellite. (n.d.). Satellite History. us/satellite-history 

United Nations General Assembly. (1967). Treaty on principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.    

NASA, 2016. [Photograph of International Space Station]

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