Presidential Decisions: NSC Documents from the Reagan Administration

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The Ronald W. Reagan Administration arguably had more focus on space and certainly issued more space policy documents than any other administration.  OSTP led the development of space policy for the first 18 months of the administration, a process culminating in the national space policy in National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 42 signed in July 1982.  This directive specified that the United States would continue considering arms control measures if compatible with national security, verifiable, and equitable, use the Shuttle as the primary launch vehicle for all national security and civil payloads, and develop an operational ASAT capability.  Following this directive a Senior Interagency Group (SIG) for space within the NSC was established and this mechanism led the development of space policy in coordination with OSTP.  Significant space-related developments including the Strategic Defense Initiative announced in March 1983 and the Challenger disaster of January 1986 were addressed in a number of specific space policy directives and reflected in the revised national space policy (NSDD 293) issued in January 1988.

NSDD 8 Space Transportation System, 13 Nov 1981 Designates the Space Transportation System as the main launch system for civil and military government missions. National security missions have launch priority.

  • Directive
  • Directive “NSDD 8U”


NSDD 42 National Space Policy, 4 Jul 1982

Supersedes Carter Administration’s Presidential Directives 37, 42, and 54 and NSDD 8.  Principle “H” supports activities in space by the right of self-defense. Principle “I” addresses arms control measures in space. Opposes regulations that block general military or intelligence uses of space.

  • Directive
  • Fact Sheet


NSDD 50 Space Assistance and Cooperation Policy, 6 Aug 1982

Reviews and replaces policy established in NSDM 187.  Grants launch and technology space assistance for peaceful purposes that abide by United States law and international agreements.  Provides implementation guidelines to achieve the objectives.

  • Directive


NSDD 80 Shuttle Orbiter Production Capability, 3 Feb 1983

Authorizes maintenance of four Shuttle Orbiters and addresses the possibilities for a fifth addition to the fleet.

  • Directive


NSDD 85 Eliminating the Threat from Ballistic Missiles, 23 Mar 1983

Initiates the study of a ballistic missile defense plan.

  • Directive
  • Press Release


NSDD 94 Commercialization of Expendable Launch Vehicles, 16 May 1983

Encourages commercial exploitation of space, but reserves the right of the United States Government to receive priority treatment in the name of national security.

  • Directive
  • Press Release

NSDD 119 Strategic Defense Initiative, 6 Jan 1984

Initiates the use of defensive capability as a deterrent.  Strategic defense implementation will focus on non-nuclear kill devices.  Research in nuclear defenses will continue as a method to prevent a Soviet Union “breakout” from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

  • Directive
  • Cover Letter
  • Fact Sheet


NSDD 144 National Space Strategy, 16 Aug 1984

States national security space principles and provides corresponding implementation guidelines. Directs developing a plan for foreign and commercial Shuttle flights that becomes NSDD 181.

  • Cover Letter
  • Fact Sheet

NSDD 164 National Security Launch Strategy, 25 Feb 1985

Defines Department of Defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration roles in maintaining operational use of the Space Transportation System.  Directs the United States Air Force to procure expendable launch vehicles.  Commits Defense to one-third of space transportation system flights in the next ten years.  NSDD 181 addresses the Defense pricing plan. NSDD 254 replaces this document.

  • Directive


NSDD 172 Presenting the Strategic Defense Initiative, 30 May 1985

Outlines the methods and information to be used for public presentations for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

  • Directive

NSDD 181 Shuttle Pricing for Foreign and Commercial Users, 30 Jul 1985

Reports pricing plan in response to direction from NSDD 144.  Directs that Defense have a separate negotiation for shuttle fight costs based on NSDD-164.

  • Directive

NSDD 195 The U.S. Position: Nuclear and Space Talks, 30 Oct 1985

Directs the Strategic Defense Initiative to continue within the limits of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  Proposes an “open laboratories initiative” to the Soviet Union as a means to explore research in strategic defense programs.

  • Directive


NSDD 254 U.S. Space Launch Strategy, 27 Dec 1986

Supersedes NSDD 164 and outlines the launch policies for civil, military and commercial missions.  Directs Department of Defense to balance the use of Space Transportation System and Expendable Launch Vehicles.

  • Fact Sheet


NSDD 258 Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Program, 6 Feb 1987

Orders efforts to lift the ban on testing anti-satellite capability on space objects. Directs Department of Defense and United States Air Force to request appropriate funding.  Supports future studies for long-range antisatellite requirements.

  • Fact Sheet

NSDD 293 PD on National Space Policy, 5 Jan 1988

Document not publicly available.
NSDD 318 Nuclear and Space Talks ¨C Additional Elements of the U.S. Position, 24 Oct 1988

Document not publicly available.

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