I would like to know the answer to this question. I would also very much like to hear what others think about the answers to this question. I have been contemplating this issue. Here are my thoughts thus far.
By its very nature space exploration has a resonance beyond national borders; at a fundamental level it is an activity that transcends national claims and appeals to global sensibilities. For centuries before Sputnik humanity has engaged in a virtual exploration of space through astronomical observation aided by astounding scientific and technological advances. In the more than fifty years since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, moreover, more than 6,000 functioning satellites have been launched into Earth orbit and beyond—some to the farthest reaches of the Solar System—and more than 540 people have traveled in space.
Space exploration is intrinsically transnational; circumscription by national borders is a meaningless concept when faced with the realities of the longue durée of the endeavor. Regardless, our understanding of space exploration has been largely rooted in the framework of national(ist) narratives and geopolitical prerogatives; this has largely been because nation-states have dominated the historical conceptions of the undertaking. It is time to move past this limited, national historical framework.
For too many individuals the perceived apotheosis of space exploration remains the heady days after Sputnik, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed to trump the other in a series of progressively more complex feats in space. The Cold War space race retains its mystique, either as a benchmark that subsequent accomplishments could never equal or as an anomaly never to be repeated.
It has, in fact, become virtually impossible to think of space exploration without allusion to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s and equally inconceivable for historians to interpret the exploration of space without regard to this nationalistic emphasis. But if we focus on a longer duration since about 1800—and view space exploration as something greater than a part of geopolitical rivalry—it takes on a more complex trans- and internationalist hue, as well as offers an opportunity to focus on more engaging economic, business, public/private, and international efforts.
I would like to undertake a study of this subject. My goal would be to develop a fully-rounded concept of a global history of space exploration in the longue durée of the last two centuries, offering perspectives on the way in which the relationship between national identity and space exploration has affected understanding of the history of space exploration; in fact, how it has been fundamental to it. This discussion would be intended as a starting point to revisit both the history and the historiography of space exploration and suggest some new avenues of investigation that move beyond formulations rooted in the Cold War space race.
This would require the exploration of various aspects of this theme and could possibly result in a fully developed work that might serve as a catalyst for future studies moving beyond current knowledge to a global history of the subject. In my estimation we would nee to characterize the story in a fundamentally different manner. It requires mastery of several broad subjects: scientific and technological innovation; financing and economics; business, corporations, and broad organizational interactions; cooperative ventures of all types; space exploration as a global phenomenon; and the characteristics and evolution of transnational arrangements. There may also be several other themes explored that are yet to be defined.
So, what would a global history of space exploration look like?