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SpaceX's Historic Relaunch of American Greatness

Originally published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on May 22, 2020

Nearly 10 years have passed since the United States cancelled plans to send another U.S. astronaut to space from U.S. soil on an U.S. rocket. The loss of our American-launched human spaceflight program meant sliding behind in a 21st-century space race with Russia and China – but this week marks an incredible comeback vested in American perseverance and ingenuity.

SpaceX and NASA will launch two astronauts from Cape Canaveral on Thursday – and for Florida, relaunch of our space industry and our economy has been a long time coming. As Florida’s economy re-opens in the wake of COVID-19, the resilience of Floridians is once again on display across the world.

To understand the importance of this launch, we must take a look back at Florida’s essential role in our country’s greatest exploration endeavor ever.

NASA’s human spaceflight program is hard-wired into Floridians’ DNA. For more than 40 years, Florida’s Space Coast gathered to watch launch after launch. They heard the roar of rocket engines and saw that bright beam of shuttle light as towards a world beyond our own. Some of the fondest memories I have as a kid were watching launches from the beach or my backyard with my mother in Jacksonville.

But in 2010, President Barack Obama retired NASA’s space shuttle fleet and later cancelled its replacement, effectively dismantling our human spaceflight program. No longer would Floridians count down to the next launch, as thousands of high paying engineering and technology jobs evaporated.

Instead, NASA would be directed to study “earth science” and environmental monitoring as America discontinued to pave the way on a human spaceflight program. America’s leadership in space become a chapter in our history books. Instead, we barely funded aspirational plans to a destination further off in our universe – Mars – and we would wait until 2030, nearly two decades later, to get there.

When the decision to cut American-led human spaceflight to the Moon was announced, Neil Armstrong and many other American astronauts were quick to condemn it, urging President Obama not to leave NASA’s low orbit and exploration plans behind.

Without investment in rockets and low-orbit exploration to send our astronauts to space, they feared the once-leading United States would lag in space development, ultimately resulting in an extreme delay in the mission to Mars, technological advancement and perhaps more concerning, the U.S. falling second or third to countries like Russia and China.

With no carriage of our own to transport our astronauts, America has had to rely on Russia to pick up the slack to transport them to the International Space Station. Sadly, Moscow knows it has taken advantage on its monopoly on putting humans into space and priced-gouged the United States.  NASA estimates the U.S. government has paid Russia nearly $4 billion to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station over the past decade.

Critically, while America dithered, China charged ahead, launching dozens of advanced satellites, developing plans for its own space station, landing a rover on the dark side of the moon along with orbiting a satellite around it. Everything China does in space is directed by the Communist Party and the Chinese military. They fully realize that no country can be number one on earth while being number two in space. 

That’s about to change, largely in part thanks to President Trump, who has seen the enormous value of the United States investing in space and defending our title as the world leader in space. Trump’s reviving our national space program with the help of the newly-reformed National Space Council, which handles a wide portfolio of civil, commercial and national security policy matters.

No longer will the United States be dependent on Russia to send American astronauts into space. Now, America will re-launch through a public-private partnership, with innovative private companies leading the charge. Private investments in American-made rocket ships and American made capsules will drive down the costs, allowing more launches and more exploration as a result.

SpaceX is one of many companies helping us reach new horizons – and they’re using Florida as their base to do it.

Next week, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will launch from Cape Canaveral, taking NASA astronauts with it. It will be the first time astronauts have launched from U.S. soil since 2011.

This is an exciting time for Florida. Our state is at the center of this period of exploration and innovation, just as we were when America’s journey to space began in the 1960s. For thousands of Floridians, this means jobs with these companies, investments in our area and economic development which will benefit our state for decades to come.

Floridians who have long missed feeling the excitement of America exploring an uncharted territory beyond this world won’t have to wait much longer to experience that feeling again.

Now, more than ever, we are reliant on space. Chances are you’ve already touched space a couple of times today, especially if you’ve looked at your phone, checked the weather or visited a website online

Satellites are critical to every aspect of our modern economy; from agriculture to logistics and navigation tools. They give meteorologists the ability to read weather patterns. Communications satellites keep us in touch with people all over the world.

We rely on rockets to launch these satellites into orbit, so this public-private partnership between NASA and these private companies is beyond important. Likewise, these launches will work hand-in-hand with our Space Force, the newest branch of the military, which also has a presence at Cape Canaveral.

This relaunch into space couldn’t come at a more critical time in America’s history. We’ve been needing hope and something to look forward to, especially now. We should all be excited about the prospect of America’s return to the cosmos and what it means for our country and for humanity. This is the next giant leap for mankind.

The sky is no longer the limit. Once again – from American soil – we’re reaching for the stars.