21st-century space race blends inspiration with defense
Fifty years ago, Americans took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.
When John F. Kennedy announced in 1961 that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, America had only put a human in space for 15 minutes. To say a lunar landing was an ambitious goal would be a massive understatement.
Our ambitions as a country in the mid-20th century reflected the global dynamics in a post-World War 2 international order. Would America’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness prevail over the Soviet Union’s totalitarian and centrally planned communist state?
More than exploration was at stake – and the entire world was watching.
Before America landed on the moon, Soviets had proven far more adept and successful at space exploration. President Kennedy’s announcement happened just a few weeks after the Soviets announced they sent a man into orbit for the first time in history.
It was clear the space race was on and America not only needed to compete – we needed to lead.
Several years and many milestones later, Americans and the world united in awe as we watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon on July 20, 1969. They left behind an American flag and some of the most famous footprints in history, sealing America’s place as the leader of the international space race.
Beyond America’s historical role as pioneers of human exploration, it is critical to understand space as a national security imperative. Just as it was the case in the 1960s, the new 21st space race has as much to do about our national security as it does for discovery and exploration.
Unlike in 1969, space now touches every aspect of our lives. Every time we send a text message, check our bank accounts or use a GPS, we are interacting with space. Space is also intrinsically tied to our national defense. Ballistic missile launches, intelligent assessments, weather reports and command communications all depend on space. Unfortunately, this patchwork infrastructure in space built over decades is incredibly vulnerable.
America’s foreign adversaries will use space to wage war on us in the future because of this vulnerability and because so many of our critical industries, infrastructure and military depend on space.
China is perhaps the most alarming example. President Xi has explicitly stated China’s intent to surpass America in space to gain a strategic advantage in the world. In contrast to America, China has no civilian equivalent space agency like we do with NASA. Instead, all of China’s focus in space is planned, funded and executed through its military.
China’s mission in space is military-specific. Their astronauts are not explorers – they are soldiers. China has already successfully tested the capability to shoot satellites out of orbit and is moving full speed ahead to develop other anti-satellite technologies.
China is on track to put its own separate space station in orbit as well as a manned colony on the moon in the next decade. They have already landed on the moon once this year and are on track for a second landing along with Israel, Europe and India.
China won’t stop until it’s the global space superpower.
In the mid-1940s, President Roosevelt recognized the U.S. Army Air Forces’ needed to evolve into a dedicated, separate branch of the military to dominate air power. Roosevelt’s vision, which led to the U.S. Air Force, proved to be a massive strategic gain for America.
President Trump has been a strong leader in this area and plans to dominate space with the creation of a U.S. Space Corps – and eventually a U.S. Space Force.
The Space Force will be a newly-created sixth branch of our military to protect our satellite infrastructure and launch capabilities. I applaud President Trump’s leadership and vision seeking to protect our space assets and infrastructure that our military and economy depends upon.
Apollo 11 and all the brave Americans who worked on the program serve as a constant reminder of what we can accomplish if we take our mission seriously and devote the necessary resources to achieve it.
We know how important space is to our economy and our very way of life. We must do all we can to defend it.
The 21st-century space race is on. It is critical to our national security that America competes – and leads – once more.