Op-ed | Trump’s space policy reaches for Mars and the stars
Our past investments in space exploration have produced brilliant returns for our economy, our security, and our sense of national destiny. Today, America’s space program is in need of a new vision.
A 21st century space policy requires a bold combination of public missions, commercial solutions and the agility to address real threats and real opportunities. To craft such a policy, government must recognize that space is no longer the province of governments alone. Ronald Reagan anticipated this revolution long ago when he signed the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.
All across the globe, investments are being made and technologies developed that will allow non-government entities greater space access. The three phases of our space endeavors — civilian, commercial, and military — each need renewed focus.
NASA was formed in the crucible of Sputnik and took this nation to the moon and stars. Today, it has been largely reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring.
NASA’s core missions must be exploration and science – and inspirational! These are the fundamental underpinnings of a Trump civilian space program.
NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies. Human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal. Developing the technologies to meet that goal would severely challenge our present knowledge base, but that should be a reason for exploration and science.
Space station activities must also remain robust given their long delayed, but now functioning, research potential. However, the U.S., working with the international community, should seek new participants in its mission and look to transitioning the station to a quasi-public facility supported by international contributions and resupplied utilizing commercially available services.
Creating the technologies necessary to meet these goals would push us into the forefront of technological development and benefit our economy for decades to come. However, NASA cannot be expected to do this kind of 21st century Apollo-like mission if it is forced to accept outdated operational structures, contracting procedures, and bureaucracies created in the last century.
Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president.
The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests. Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared.
Here, it makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment.
Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations.
Vibrant companies like Orbital ATK and SpaceX are already resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX and Boeing/ULA are developing systems to carry astronauts to the ISS and beyond. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are leading the way on space tourism. Other firms like Paragon, Sierra Nevada, and Xcor are developing spacecraft and spacecraft components.
All of this activity spurs innovation, creates high-paying jobs, and propels growth. Too often our regulatory bureaucracies and 20th century government space monopoly orientation stand in the way.
All too often, too, the technologies we develop from space research move off-shore because we have failed as a nation to insure that our investment policies benefit our country’s struggling middle class. SpaceX stands out as a company committed to a Made in America policy.
Americans may rightly ask why spend even a penny on space activities and exploration when there are so many problems right here on Earth. The easy answer is that every dollar we invest wisely on our space program will deliver robust returns in terms of inventions, innovations, and economic growth.
This has been the experience of the last 60 years dating back to the dawn of the space age. This can be the experience of the next 100 years if only we intelligently restructure our space program to adapt to this new and exciting 21st century.
The second reason for an ambitious American space program is existential. While the American government’s space program has suffered from under-investment, both China and Russia continue to move briskly forward with military-focused initiatives. Each continues to develop weapons explicitly designed, as the Pentagon has noted, to “deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy” America’s eyes and ears in space. To maintain our strategic advantage in space and defend our troops and homeland, we must re-invigorate our space program.
Space is the frontier on which American aspiration can become humankind’s inspiration. It is our freedom and our courage that allows us to do great things. Space represents a challenge of infinite proportions. There is no environment more hostile. There are no distances to travel that are greater. And yet Americans seem to know intuitively that the destiny of a free people lies in the stars. Donald Trump fully agrees.
Robert Walker is former chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and former chairman of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine. Both are senior policy advisers to the Trump campaign.