What The New York Times Got Wrong About The New Race To The Moon

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Mark Whittington Contributor
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A recent story in the New York Times entitled “As America Looks Inward, China Looks Up. Way Up” took a shot at President Trump by stating the following: “While President Trump refocuses American industry on the earthbound technologies of the 20th century — coal, steel and aluminum — China is setting its sights on the far reaches of the solar system.”

The article went on to note China’s space ambitions, particularly focusing on the moon, implying that Trump was neglecting the opportunities that the high frontier of space offers. The president has been the target of a great many attacks in the media, especially from the Gray Lady. No other attack, however, has ignored the existence of an important agency of the U.S. government, NASA, and a multibillion-dollar program to reach for the moon in order to try to make Trump seem asleep at the switch.

One can love or hate Trump, but it cannot be denied that he has paid more attention to how space exploration can, to coin the familiar phrase, “make America great again” than most occupants of the Oval Office have.

Last year, Trump signed an executive order directing NASA to return to the moon, reversing a policy enacted by President Obama. The most recent funding request for NASA has been quite generous for the first phase of the new program, which seeks to partner NASA with commercial companies to start landing robotic probes on Earth’s nearest neighbor as early as next year. People will follow sometime in the mid-2020s, riding to the lunar surface on a lander built by the commercial sector.

Nor has Mars been neglected. Mars InSight, a probe that will examine the Red Planet’s interior, recently launched. Mars 2020, a rover similar to Mars Curiosity, is due to depart in two years. The car-sized rover will have a helicopter drone that will be the first craft to fly over the surface of another world.

Farther afield, NASA is planning a Mars sample return mission, likely in partnership with the European Space Agency. The young new administrator and reformist of the space agency Jim Bridenstine has assured one and all that people are still due to go to Mars in the early 2030s.

NASA is also preparing probes that will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, a world whose icy surface covers a warm water ocean that scientists believe could be an abode of life. Part of the plan to explore the ice-shrouded moon consists of a lander that will search for signs of living organisms.

America also has one advantage that China lacks in the form of a vibrant, commercial space sector. Everyone has stood amazed as SpaceX has mastered the art of reusable rockets, greatly lowering the cost of launching things into space. Companies such as Moon Express and Astrobotic are among the partners NASA is relying on to return to the moon sooner rather than later. Other companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are developing asteroid mining businesses, something that Goldman Sachs suggested is a growth industry of the 21st century.

All of this is not to say that Americans should be complacent about China’s space ambitions. The prospect of a country with an aggressive military policy and poor human rights record as the PRC has become a dominant space power is a matter of great concern. The U.S. must remain vigorously focused on exploring space and using the high frontier to better its economy and enhance its political power. In this at least, however, Trump seems to be enacting sound policy.

Mark Whittington has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why Is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.