U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gives remarks May 14 at the premiere of the film "Apollo 11: First Steps Edition" at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Fifty years after man’s first steps on the moon, the future of human exploration in the final frontier is at a critical turning point. American leadership in space is more important than ever and, importantly, it remains one of the few issues that transcends the partisan divide. The Trump administration and lawmakers in both parties have shown a commitment to human exploration in space and the policies needed to maintain America’s advantage.

The Trump administration has prioritized an acceleration of America’s space exploration program, with the ambitious vision of returning astronauts to the moon’s South Pole by 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence by 2028 using NASA’s new deep space exploration systems, the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew vehicle.

On Monday, the administration showed its commitment to these goals by requesting an extra $1.6 billion for NASA in next year’s budget.

Since coming into office, the president has laid the groundwork for this visionary plan which can be seen through the revival of the National Space Council. Under the leadership of vice president Mike Pence, the National Space Council has centralized coordination of national space policy and new focus on defense and exploration priorities in space.

With a renewed emphasis on space, the Trump administration is reasserting American leadership in an area that is not necessarily front of mind as a strategic concern. Fortunately, the administration’s efforts are bolstered by the fact that Congress has a history of acting in a bipartisan manner to protect and strengthen America’s interests in space.

In the last Congress, the House and Senate unanimously approved the NASA Transition Authorization Act, which set forth new goals and initiatives for advancing deep space and scientific exploration, development of space technology, and expanding human presence to the surface of Mars and beyond.

Moreover, Congress has encouraged competitiveness and innovation in commercial space launches over the years, including through bipartisan legislation to foster public-private investments for launch vehicles and associated launch services. Requirements by Congress to transition away from foreign rocket propulsion systems has served to strengthen the supply chain across the United States.

United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur will ensure that we are developing more powerful and efficient launch systems to support both national security and help support NASA’s return to the moon by transferring cargo and other supplies to prepare for astronaut missions on SLS and Orion.  Additionally, ULA has built the upper stage that will be used on the first two SLS missions and enable the first crewed return to lunar orbit since Apollo 17.  As the vice president noted during the most recent meeting of the National Space Council, held earlier this year at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Americans have been building “the greatest and most powerful rockets” here in the U.S., and ULA is humbled to be a part of this proud history of engineering excellence.

We look forward to working with the administration and lawmakers in both parties as we pursue the goal of launching America forward in the newest era of the space race. With the new Vulcan Centaur on the horizon, we will be taking an important step forward by ending our reliance on Russian engines. However, as China is already beginning to make clear with respect to its own goals and ambitions in the final frontier, it is more important than ever that we continue to act and embrace the urgency to innovate so that American values can help lead the way in shaping the future of mankind’s presence in space.

At ULA, we are inspired by the call to “think bigger, fail smarter, and work harder than ever before.” We are encouraged by America’s renewed focus on space exploration. And we are proud to partner with the government and our private sector innovators as we harness America’s best and brightest to make sure we are putting our best foot forward, on Earth and in space. And now, we will do it once again from American soil.

Tory Bruno is the president and chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance.

Tory Bruno is the president and chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance.