Bolder Space Policy Needed To Focus On America’s National Security and Economy

Getty Images/ By NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP and Chip Somodevilla

John Cody Mosbey Retired Air Force Colonel
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Congress and the administration have begun to prove that good things can happen when leadership and cooperation triumph over gamesmanship and party.

To our recently refortified Defense budget, meaningful tax cuts and regulatory relief, add another victory – gradual restoration of cogent, committed, national space policy. But, red alert: More needs to be done.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of America’s Apollo moon landings in July of next year, space policy has begun to regain its place in the pantheon of America’s leading national issues  But as international competitors threaten to overtake America on both the civilian and security sides, greater focus and concentration on space are needed.

For purposes of advancing human space exploration, private space commerce, science and national security, America’s law and regulations matter.  How we get into space, and what we do with our access once America is up and out of the so-called “gravity well” affects the lives of every American.

From reliable global communications to launching highly classified national security satellites, from international space station missions to the aspirational shot at Mars, America’s future is written above us. That is why we have to revisit how we get into space and what we do once we are there.

What is the latest? For starters, President Trump just signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which comprehensively addresses space acquisition reform, resources, cadre development and joint warfighting. While good news, the steps are not earthshaking, and certainly not giant leaps.

Again, this idea is intriguing — perhaps even timely — in view of rising operational tempo in space by international players such as China, Russia, India, Middle Eastern countries of means and even Europe.  But more can be done.

Putting aside the need for robust parallel commitments to NASA, FAA and civilian space-related infrastructure, there are two basic needs that remain unmet.

The first unmet need is for greater concrete planning and credible commitments — by both the Administration and leaders in Congress — to creating for America a reliable launch system or systems that can deliver humans safely to orbit, back to the moon, and on to Mars. Suffice to say, since Apollo, we have fumbled that ball repeatedly, and it is time to drive for the goal line.

More fundamentally, closer to home, and easier to execute is a clear-eyed reevaluation at basic laws and regulations that would better protect our national security from a slow-growing threat of accidental, negligent or intentional interference by international actors.

In an era of renewed focus on American patriotism, borders, protection of jobs for Americans on American soil, and elevated concern about national security and international actors’ real intentions, the first thing the Administration and Congress can do is review threats and vulnerabilities that exist — and can be fixed.

Arguably, there are hundreds of regulations and laws that stand to be tightened and more aggressively enforced to elevate national security and protect American jobs, but a few stand out in the space sector.

For example, why are any national security assets — satellites affecting our security, the security of all Americans—– launched by anyone other than Americans, and from anywhere but America?  Public accounts that not everything that could be launched from America is, why not?

Realistically, if we are serious about reclaiming lost economic ground and protecting our sovereign rights, we should not just be asking fair trade with China.  American national security assets should never be launched from outside the United States, by any company not majority-owned by Americans. Isn’t that common sense?

Keeping that capacity here would better protect our assets, create American jobs across a devastated sector, and maybe even encourage America’s emerging private space business.

If we are talking about bringing our production of cars, steel, aluminum and other industries home, we should also insist – or the Administration and Congress should – that parallel requirements cross-cut other sectors.  Space is an obvious one, especially with an American private sector dedicated to creating indigenous launch capacity of every kind, to all possible orbits and for all sorts of payloads and purposes.

Why not insist that every American satellite be actually built here, then actually launched from American soil, and why not by companies majority-owned, located here and employing Americans?  That would be simple to do, and might even help reemploy those who lost jobs with demise of the Shuttle Program.

There are also other obvious ways to simultaneously protect America’s national security, protect every American, restore job growth to a decimated sector, and encourage America’s growing space launch businesses, large and small, doing the crazy big things and  the critical small ones.

After all, as we look back to Apollo – which was a stunning national program that created more spinoffs and side industries, more companies manufacturing and servicing the space sector than any before or after – we have a grand example of what is possible.

So, yes, let’s get back to space, for sure and with bipartisan support, but let’s also remember that America’s national security – and pockets of our economy – depend on doing in America, for America and with Americans anything and everything we can in this area.  Space matters – and so do the Americans protected by keeping this sector strong, and all-American.

John Cody Mosbey is a retired Air Force colonel and current university instructor. He is a former executive director of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security of the Naval Postgraduate School. He is also a researcher and writer on Russian geopolitics.

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