Last week on July 26-28, 2022, the ISS R&D Conference (a joint event hosted by AAS and the ISS National Laboratory) was held in Washington, D.C. The conference discussed the research being conducted on the International Space Station and the initiatives targeted for the future. Wednesday’s luncheon Keynote speaker was Rep. Aderholt of Alabama who shared his vision for the United States’ space program. His speech outlined the goals he has for the nation’s space exploration efforts and the pillars that will help achieve them. His full speech was shared with AAS and can be read below.
It was on December 14, 1972, U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan climbed aboard the lunar module Challenger, leaving behind the last human footprints on the Moon. With that mission, the Apollo program, which had achieved a great democratic victory over communism and the Soviet Union by putting Americans on the Moon, came to a close.
It is difficult to believe that two generations of Americans have been born who have not seen a human on the moon. We diverted our focus and turned our backs on space exploration as a nation. Now, we find ourselves standing on the precipice of a new era in space– a new era in which adversaries like China are actively seeking to fill the void we have left behind.
Just as when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, we see China doing the same today with their own program. Yet, the space race of today is not like the one we faced with the Soviets. The space race of today has far more on the line.
Over the last five years, we’ve seen the Chinese rapidly increase their cadence in missions to space. They’ve achieved the first ever robotic soft landing on the far side of the moon, retrieved the first lunar samples since the 1970s, successfully landed a rover on Mars, and today they seek to land Chinese astronauts on the Moon by 2030.
In the last year alone, we’ve witnessed the Chinese develop and establish their own space station with blinding speed. With this new station, China plans to foster commercial activities and further its hostile efforts to displace the U.S.-led international system, no longer just on Earth, but in space as well.
In this new era where the U.S. is being challenged across every sector, our American Space Enterprise cannot afford to lose focus or momentum. Therefore, to ensure the United States remains the global space power, we must commit to a set of pillars based on principle in order to uphold it. The pillars of: Leadership, Permanence, Harmony, Security, and Support.
First, the U.S. must maintain and enhance its clear leadership in space. This means fully supporting the Artemis program and its deep space exploration infrastructure, like the Space Launch System and Orion, while also maintaining an aggressive cadence of cutting-edge science missions, including the Mars Sample Return. As we advance the Artemis program, NASA must continue to actively recruit allied nations to join us in implementing the Artemis Accords, and the National Space Council must lead efforts to leverage key national assets across all federal agencies to help meet these demanding goals. All while continuing to lead the international community by example.
The U.S. must also establish a strong, permanent American presence in space. In low-earth orbit, we must support U.S. industry efforts to develop commercial space destinations and a thriving economy, so that our adversaries do not fill that gap. Beyond low-Earth orbit, NASA must enhance its partnership with the commercial space industry to guarantee Gateway is developed on time, the U.S. lunar base is fully functional and sustainable, and that we have the necessary nuclear technology to go on to Mars.
Furthermore, U.S. success in space cannot be expected to be shouldered by NASA alone. As leaders, we must foster harmony between NASA and the private sector to meet our ambitious space goals and timelines. That means leveraging national assets, like the Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built – with commercial space resources. It also means recognizing the success of companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX who have invested their own resources in supporting NASA – not replacing NASA. In an era of increasing collaboration, we will only continue to see this type of growth in private industry initiative, and the expansion of NASA’s role as both a leader and trusted partner. Importantly, in order for the space industry to grow and flourish, agencies across the Executive Branch must provide regulatory certainty, so that essential American innovation is not stifled by red tape and bureaucracy.
Additionally, we must ensure security in space by aggressively countering adversarial ambitions. This includes addressing the dramatic progress of China’s space program, Chinese espionage, and also having a serious discussion about the future of U.S.-Russian relations in space.
As many of you know, the Russians have announced plans to leave the ISS after 2024 and to pursue their own station. This message, as we’re looking to extend the life of station through 2030 in the CHIPs bill, and as this conference is ongoing, could not have been more timely. It’s a message that only furthers the narrative that a Russia under Vladimir Putin’s control is an erratic partner.
This behavior is why in the FY23 House Commerce, Justice, and Science bill, I included a provision mirroring that of the Wolf Amendment, for Russia. With the exception of ISS related activities and other ongoing cooperative activities, the provision closes in on Russia and hopefully sends a message that so long as current hostilities continue, the U.S. will also be narrowing its scope of cooperation in space.
With these constantly shifting threat assessments, NASA and the Department of Defense must be prepared to fulfill their unique roles to deter and contain these endeavors on all fronts.
Finally, Congress must work with NASA and other federal agencies to cultivate the support base for tomorrow. The U.S. workforce, industrial base, and the talent of future generations are critical to our space exploration goals. Our nation must continue to invest in STEM programs and facilities to maintain cohesion between the U.S. education system and the space industry. We must ensure a pipeline of skilled workers at NASA and in the industry, along with the infrastructure fundamental to fostering innovation and a 21st Century space economy.
To fully exercise these pillars and ensure U.S. leadership in space, today I challenge our American Space Enterprise to achieve eleven critical markers by the end of the decade. As you know, we recently celebrated the anniversary of Apollo 11. And just as Apollo 11 brought Americans to the Moon and set us on this great journey of exploration, these eleven markers seek to inspire us to do the same:
Number one, we must further our cooperation and collaboration with allies in space. As aspiring space-faring nations join the Artemis Accords, we should seek to expand it beyond simply being a framework for exploration. Just as we cultivate allied nations in their defense capabilities, we should similarly consider bolstering their space capabilities. Strategic investments in allied space activities will not only advance humanity forward, but also increase integration with American space systems as opposed to authoritarian ones like China.
Number two, we must continue to establish rules and norms in space. If we are to continue to lead this system on Earth, our rules-based framework must extend into space. In doing so, we simultaneously set an example for rising space-faring nations and prevent rogue nations like China from taking the lead.
Number three, we must embolden our National Space Council to lead the American Space Enterprise. In order for the U.S. to excel and meet the goals of this new era in space, we will need an all of government approach. This will require the serious focus of the executive branch and the ability to leverage national assets from across all federal agencies. Doing so is vital to ensuring we achieve our goals and further proves the seriousness of American commitment to the challenge.
Number four, we must maintain a human presence in low earth orbit and establish an ongoing lunar presence. As we continue towards a post- International Space Station environment, it is vital that we continue to maintain a human presence in low-Earth orbit. Success of programs like commercial LEO destination will be critical towards ensuring a continued human presence and activity.
Beyond LEO and as most of you are aware, NASA is currently on track for a moon landing in 2025. And upon its success, we must embark upon the completion of Gateway and the establishment of a functional and sustainable lunar base by 2027. Both will serve as test beds for teaching us how to truly live and thrive amidst the harsh environments of space. Development of fission surface power, studies of lunar minerals, and testing of life support systems are just a few benefits of this permanent presence. These facilities will not only ensure safety for a future mission to Mars, but they also open the door to commercial opportunities on the Moon and in deep space.
Number five, we must ensure that the Office of Space Commerce is forward leaning and resilient to the regulatory environment of the future. The rapid increase of activity in low-Earth orbit has been an incredible sign of a growing space economy. Central to that growth, however, is a stable, transparent, and predictable space situational awareness coordination system at the Office of Space Commerce. The OSC is the epicenter of our next steps in further cultivating commercial space.
Number six, we must ensure NASA maintains an environment that cultivates innovation and ingenuity across its entire landscape. Diversity and redundancy across this environment will ensure that as we advance our priorities, we will not be beholden to the risks of following a single track or idea. In promoting their strengths across the U.S. commercial space enterprise, we must also recognize the changing landscape of the industry. Gone are the days of new space and old space, jockeying for relevance in separate lanes. In this new era, we only have American space, where companies like Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Lockheed Martin, together propel our American Space Enterprise forward while maintaining their own unique strengths. NASA must leverage this diverse expertise from across our American space industry and utilize every aspect to the fullest.
Number seven, we must garner greater cohesion between NASA and the Department of Defense. We must ensure that we can easily leverage NASA assets for space security, as well as DoD assets for NASA development. Utilization of the Space Launch System for national security launches when economically feasible, as well as utilization of Space Force satellites for scientific research where needed, are just two ways in which this can be developed. While we may seek for space to be a secure and peaceful domain, it would be naïve to assume that the Russians and Chinese will seek the same.
Number eight, we must contain Chinese space ambitions. The existential threat posed by the Communist regime must be taken seriously. Insulating our industry from Chinese espionage and securing our supply chain are just a few steps that are essential to curtailing their malign tactics. Additionally, we must dedicate resources towards enhancing our cyber capabilities and strengthening our export controls if we want to protect American assets.
Number nine, we must cultivate the STEM workforce of tomorrow. Unfortunately, compared to past decades, there are more American children aspiring to be TikTok influencers, whereas Chinese children dream of becoming astronauts. This is unacceptable. If the U.S. is to continue to lead, we must have a workforce that reflects our ambitions. Strengthening NASA and industry’s STEM partnerships with academia are crucial to changing these trends.
Number ten, we must reconstitute NASA’s infrastructure. The facilities of the Apollo-era will not be sustainable for Artemis and beyond. Ensuring that NASA has a robust infrastructure plan that each NASA Center can easily, efficiently, and cost-effectively deploy is vital. Infrastructure investments as well as partnerships with the private sector to meet the goals of this plan are essential and they cannot come at the cost of other important missions and programs. Launch pads, operations, and administrative buildings underpin the success of our space programs.
And finally number eleven, NASA must look forward to the technologies of the future and lay the seeds for industry. Just as NASA trailblazed with Apollo in the 1960s and Shuttle in the 1980s, NASA must again do the same for Artemis and beyond in today’s world. Technologies like nuclear propulsion, in-space manufacturing, and advanced habitation must be key priorities for development and demonstration during this decade.
Dovetailing with NASA’s recent set of high-level Moon to Mars objectives, these eleven markers will only further add to overall mission success.
While these challenges may seem daunting, I believe our American Space Enterprise can achieve them. Leaders in all aspects of the space community have a role. Many of you in the room here today will contribute to these endeavors and are crucial to our nation’s success. As the lead Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, it will be my top priority to help marshal the power of the purse in support of our enterprise.
Space and NASA have long been an area of bipartisanship for Congress that should continue and I commit to furthering that spirit of cooperation.
In closing, we cannot afford to cede our primacy in space to authoritarian dictators and second-rate powers. Just as the U.S. has historically been an Arsenal of Democracy, the United States Congress must be an arsenal in support of space. As legislators, we will seek to provide all the resources and guidance necessary for NASA and our space industry to succeed swiftly and safely.
And for you all here, to succeed.
When U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan took his last step on the lunar surface, he believed America would be back in the not-so-distant future. As he always said in the years after, he was not the last person to walk on the moon but was simply the most recent person to walk on the Moon.
When we inevitably return to the Moon and begin our endeavor onward to the red planet, it will be because the U.S. once again rose to the challenge. I believe it will be due in part to these markers that I’ve outlined, that the next person on the Moon is an American, and that the first person on Mars is as well.
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
The opinions expressed in the Space Times in form of published articles are those of the authors only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Space Times, the American Astronautical Society, or any organizations the authors are affiliated with.