Last week President Trump announced he would be initiating the creation of the “Space Corps” as a sixth branch within the armed forces of the United States. It soon became subject to “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and other science fiction themed memes that scorched across the Internet and remains a complex and tentative policy proposal within itself.
Nonetheless, it is a strong reminder of both how the Trump Administration has revitalized much of our country’s space programs and the increasing economic and national security need for doing so.
President Trump’s announcement follows his directive last year to reconvene the National Space Council, an advisory and coordination body for space policy that had not met since 1993. The organization has been working this past year on a variety of initiatives to coordinate efforts across the federal government and in public-private partnerships to support American interests in aeronautical development and space.
In December last year President Trump even teased the potential for Americans to soon be returning to the Moon and even Mars, amid further increased support for the variety of public-private partnerships our government now supports for space development.
It seems fanciful even in 2018 to be seriously talking about space exploration, but it is worth remembering that our country first landed our citizens on the Moon in July 1969. Next year it will be the 50thanniversary since the brave patriots of Apollo 11 made those first steps on the lunar surface and planted an American flag there for the world to see.
Despite the decades since, not only have we not developed our space capabilities significantly further, let alone having returned to the moon, but it could be argued our know-how has actually declined.
To compare, in 2014 dollars the NASA budget declined from a height of $43.554 billion in 1966 to $23.668 billion in 1992 in the wake of the Soviet Unions collapse. It then declined further in years after, holding relatively constant in nominal dollars but decreasing in real value to about $17 billion to $18 billion throughout the 2000’s.
During that time regulatory constriction prevented significant development in the private sector, which already faced market barriers due to the highly experimental nature of advanced aeronautical technology and particularly back then. Some achievements were made, such as the building of the International Space Station in the 1990’s
However that has begun to change in recent years thanks to a mix of increased government interest, particularly under the Trump Administration, as well as many successful public-private partnerships in the form of companies such as SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Even amid still frequent technical glitches with SpaceX and other complex aeronautical technology, the fact that now each launch garners immense and widespread public attention shows that Americans are indeed interested again in space.
Our country has moved a long way from 2012 when Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Moon base proposal during the GOP presidential primary faced widespread scorn from both sides of the aisle. Speaker Gingrich is still evangelizing about the prospects for and benefits of space exploration, but now with a much more receptive federal government, business sector, and general population.
Space is still daunting, as it is vast, dangerous, and full of the unknown. That is why some of our most compelling literary and cinematic creations of past decades have centered around those possibilities, whether it be “Aliens” and “2001: Space Odyssey” long ago or in “Avengers” and “Interstellar” in recent times.
Yet space is also now a more pressing concern precisely because of the increasing technological capabilities we are developing to more seriously pursue useful activities in space. With those new capabilities, so come greater worries – particularly from a national security perspective.
Much of our country’s economic, social, and military infrastructure relies on a network of hundreds of American satellites orbiting our Earth. These satellites process and relay every kind of data imaginable, from industry to military, from consumer to government.
Our satellite reliance is also extremely sensitive. As our nation faces increasing conflict with other military powerhouses such as China and Russia, a serious attack on our core infrastructure is not only possible but seems an almost certain part of any foreign hostile action.
Though it may still be a while before we have commercial tours in our upper atmosphere or even on the Moon and other bodies, it also may all be coming sooner than we think and very well possibly in our lifetimes.
In comparison, just a hundred years ago humans were just barely creating the first aircraft to get us beyond the immediate forces of gravity, let alone hundreds of year prior when medieval and classical astronomers first chartered the initial forays into the world beyond our immediate Earth.
While it will soon be half a century since Neil Armstrong uttered his legendary “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the next half century looks to be very promising for our country’s and the world’s continued expansion into space.
When our government, market, and people seriously look at the stars, the possibilities are immense and achievable, as our country has shown before. President Trump has done major good in pushing that agenda forward, and undoubtedly we will continue to see the results.