April 19, 2007 in Opinion

The new space race

Douglas MacKinnon Los Angeles Times
 

In November, the American people put the Democrats back in charge of Congress. Although some of my fellow Republicans are unhappy with that vote, the political arrangement makes it crucial for President Bush and the Congress to find common ground.

If the president is looking for a place to start, he should go back to an idea he proposed a few years ago – one that has important implications for our national security and our sense of pride in our nation.

On Jan. 14, 2004, Bush announced a “Vision for Space,” a dramatic, news-making concept that would take us back to the moon and, eventually, beyond. The initiative would keep the United States pre-eminent in the arena of human space flight.

Of course, that “vision” was announced when the Republicans wielded much more power than they do today. Politics aside, many in and out of the space business strongly believe that going beyond the moon is exactly the right track for our nation – especially considering China’s publicly stated goal of starting to colonize the moon within the next few decades.

It must not be forgotten that China’s military runs that country’s space program, something we were dramatically reminded of just three months ago when the Chinese space agency blasted a target satellite out of orbit with a missile.

Although the message might have been lost on some, it was not lost on the White House and the Pentagon. China has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of ceding the ultimate high ground, nor its unimagined promise, to a confused and distracted United States. The same can be said for Russia, Europe, India and a growing list of nations that see a future in the high frontier.

Republicans and Democrats must come together on seeing the “Vision for Space” through. Any delay would cost the taxpayers billions of dollars in research and development and further increase the time from when the space shuttle stops flying in 2010 until we get the next-generation Orion spacecraft into orbit. Even with the current “vision,” it is anticipated that our nation will have no Americans flying on American spacecraft for at least four to six years. A delay now would put our nation at a serious disadvantage in terms of national security.

Unfortunately, some congressional Democrats have been too ready to fight the president on any initiative he proposes, and the White House and Republicans have yet to demonstrate the courage of their convictions with regard to space.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., noted the problem recently, saying, “The space program needs presidential leadership, and we expect to see that leadership in the budget. Unfortunately, we don’t see it in this year’s budget yet again … NASA’s work should be the hallmark of any national program to promote America’s competitiveness.”

That competitiveness cuts across science, commerce, exploration and national security. Our communications, our finances, our passenger planes and our troops in the field depend heavily on the security of our satellite network. And pushing beyond lunar orbit is the next step for humanity, one many Americans will be proud to take.

Should we delay or cancel this next logical step because of politics, the American people will suffer while other nations reap the benefits of that which could have been ours.


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