Commentary | Mitt Romney: Ready To Restore Lost U.S. Leadership in Space

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America’s space program is a strategic national asset. It bolsters national security with irreplaceable military and intelligence functions. It supports the global economic infrastructure with communication and navigation satellite networks. And it inspires technological innovation by a scientifically trained and highly proficient work force. Across 50 years, the program has served as a hallmark of American leadership and ingenuity that reflects and demonstrates the strength of our fundamental values.

Unfortunately, American leadership is in jeopardy. Today we have a space program befitting a president who rejects American exceptionalism, apologizes for America and believes we should be just another nation with a flag. President Barack Obama has put us on a path that cedes our global position as the unequivocal leader in space. For the first time since the dawn of the Space Age, America has chosen to forgo its own capabilities for putting astronauts into space and instead relies on the Russians. The space shuttle’s planned retirement was known on the day President Obama took office, yet the earliest that Americans will again ride American rockets into space is 2016 — a stretch longer than the one between President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech and the first steps on the Moon. Because of the president’s policies, engineers are moving on. Companies are turning their attention elsewhere. Graduates are aiming for different careers.

Nowhere are these failures more apparent than at NASA itself, where President Obama’s lack of leadership has had a debilitating impact. NASA has been whipsawed by a lack of strategic focus and the abandonment of the bipartisan consensus for human space exploration created in the aftermath of the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The late Neil Armstrong has called the approach “devastating.” Practical plans for engaging international and commercial partners in the next steps beyond the international space station have been shelved, international opportunities to cooperate in robotic explorations of Mars have been squandered and U.S. partners have reluctantly concluded that the United States is no longer serious about leading in space.

The less-publicized problems surrounding our national security and commercial space communities tell the same tale. Many of our national security space programs are significantly overbudget and behind schedule, and many are designed to meet yesterday’s threats. The true engine of our nation’s space capabilities is our aerospace industry, but it is suffering as well. The Obama administration’s poor management of programs, its indifference to the industrial base and the lack of investment in leading-edge technological improvements have led to the U.S. aerospace industry’s retreat from leading global space markets and innovation.

This national tragedy will be extraordinarily costly to reverse if we do not act soon. Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work. But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is committed to rebuilding an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again of leading the world toward new frontiers.

Romney will begin by bringing together all the stakeholders — from NASA, from the Air Force, from our leading universities and from commercial enterprises — to set goals, identify missions and define a pathway forward that is guided, coherent and worthy of our great nation. For NASA, this will allow for the establishment of the clear and stable priorities the agency so desperately needs. Romney will ensure that those priorities then serve as the basis for practical and sustainable missions that balance pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration programs.

A robust national security space program will also be a top priority in a Romney administration. Space-based information capabilities are central to the U.S. national security community. If America is to remain strong as a nation, space programs must remain strong as part of our national security. Romney will direct the development of capabilities that defend and increase the resilience of space assets. He will also promote the development of capabilities that will deter adversaries seeking to damage or destroy the space capabilities of the U.S. and its allies.

For both exploration and security, Romney is committed to engaging and working with partners in the international community. He will be clear about the nation’s space objectives and will invite friends and allies to cooperate with America in achieving mutually beneficial goals. A strong aerospace industry must also be able to compete for and win business in foreign markets. Romney will work to ease trade limitations, as appropriate, on foreign sales of U.S. space goods and to expand access to new markets.

Finally, Romney recognizes the exciting opportunity that the commercial space industry offers for technological innovation, global industrial leadership and the creation of new markets. He will establish a clear framework that ensures NASA serves as a constructive partner for private sector initiatives.

NASA will set goals and lead the way in human space exploration, working from a clear roadmap in partnership with our allies, research institutions and the private sector.

NASA will look whenever possible to the private sector to provide repeatable space-based services like human and cargo transport to and from low Earth orbit. It will provide clear and timely guidance as to expected needs so the private sector can plan and invest accordingly.

The private sector will handle commercially viable activities — from satellite launches to space tourism to new businesses and industries that U.S. entrepreneurs will no doubt create if provided a friendly environment for doing so. NASA will license technology as soon as is practicable, and aim to facilitate the growth of space commerce.

President Obama’s broken promises, his failure to establish a clear path forward and his lack of support for a strong NASA have sewn confusion and uncertainty within both U.S. industry and the broader international community. Mitt Romney will ensure that we have a space program worthy of a great nation — one that strengthens our national security, builds peaceful engagements with other spacefaring nations and promotes the creation of a growing private sector for space commerce that will make America even stronger in the 21st century.

Scott Pace is the chairman and Eric Anderson is a member of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Space Policy Advisory Group.