The United States has a lot of laws. So many laws that even the high ranking officials aren’t even aware of all the laws, and can do something as simple as allowing scientific access to non vital systems and mistakenly put themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Simon ‘Pete’ Worden, director of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California might be in trouble. He gave foreign citizens access to information that falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR is a set of rules that aims to prevent the transfer of potentially strategic technologies to foreign countries. Created during the cold war to further protect technological assets that the United States has, the laws have been under scrutiny for some time for being necessary at the time, but useless now in the day and age of private companies having the ability to launch rockets and satellites into space.
Recently the Department of Defense and the State Department have recommended taking non-military communications and remote-sensing satellites out of ITAR’s jurisdiction, because like I mentioned above, any company can now do it. But unfortunately that does not protect Worden from any zealous U.S. Attorney looking to make a name for himself. “I think that careful implementation of this report’s recommendations may have the potential to reduce some of the unintended consequences of space export control on universities and university education,” says Kevin Schmadel, vice-president for government relations at the Universities Space Research Association.
Some people on Capitol Hill are saying that they might use this case as an excuse to keep the stringent rules of ITAR in place, others are saying that they hope this can be used as a building block towards loosening the regulations currently placed on non-defense satellites and rockets.