Trump and the Challenge of Space

Someone is listening to Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 moonwalker who landed, with Neil Armstrong, on the moon’ surface 50 years ago this year.  Aldrin has strongly suggested America is poised for another period of leadership in space -- from near-Earth orbit to settlement of Mars -- and the White House seems to be listening. 

First, President Trump introduced Buzz Aldrin at the State of the Union, noting America aimed to put American astronauts back on “American rockets” before long.  No more hitching rides on Russian rockets. 

Then, in a series of path-breaking actions, Trump pressed America’s national security priorities over globalism, signed robust “Buy American” executive orders, and Vice President Mike Pence announced the administration’s intent to put humans on the moon by 2024. 

If this were not enough, the President has emphasized American space leadership in a way not seen since John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  This time, the goal is not taking a Saturn V to the moon, or reengineering the Space Shuttle and International Space Station for success, but a new twin aim -- capturing public imagination on the way to placing humans Mars, and capturing market share from competitors in near-Earth orbit.

Taking the second aim first, space observers have noticed that Trump policies are encouraging market-based solutions, diversification of alternative launch options, public-private partnerships, “Buy America” emphasis -- presumably for manufacture and launch, as well as specific agency innovations, such as DARPA’s “launch challenge,” which seeks greater flexibility, speed to space, responsive launches, and cost containment.  All this vectors toward increased market share, in rocket launch and space exploration.

The other Trump Administration ambition is -- if possible -- bolder.  The President is following the hopes and dreams of Americans who lived through the breathtaking Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, as he did – and want to see America lead in space exploration.  The obvious goals are the moon – and if possible, Mars.

No president has been more serious-minded about space, or more determined to fulfil promises made – and this president has made a few.  No president has been bolder, and in no sector more bold than in space.  First, the White House Space Council, then the Space Force, more recently a commitment to beat competitors in space marketing, pushing “Buy America” and then going back to the moon by 2024. 

Now comes the zinger, which makes clear all the rest is not illusion, distraction, or false hope.  In Japan, the President went beyond elevated NASA and Space Force budgets, beyond the moon return promise and the DARPA Challenge.  He put his eyes on Mars, creating an interplanetary bridge between idealism and realism, wishes and outcomes, promise and practice. 

More specifically, President Trump went beyond hoping American launch companies win in near-Earth and racing to deep space.  He expressly pledged, standing beside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that the United States will be “going to Mars very soon,” and asked international cooperation.  He said, “Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts tospace, and added that “nothing is more important now than space.”

How soon Americans – with or without Japanese crewmates – get back to space on “American rockets,” and then how long it takes us to move to Mars is an open question.  But big things are afoot, and when a President makes announcements such as this one, hope lives anew among those who were alive during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

One who was, and who saluted the President directly at the 2019 State of the Union – was Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.  His aim is clearly in line with the President’s, as he laid out the ambition to initiate human migration to Mars in a recent Washington  Post op-ed

In that piece, Aldrin argued that we “should focus on opening the door, in our time, to the great migration of humankind to Mars… It is time we get down to blueprints, architecture and implementation, and to take that next step – a sustainable international return to the moon, directly charting a pathway to Mars.”

Like preserving American leadership in near-Earth orbit, the Aldrin piece advocating American leadership to Mars – taking Americans to Mars in the initial stages of migration – was riveting. Aldrin argued from science, history, hope, and personal space exploration experience.  His argument was compelling to average Americans who read it, perhaps also to some n the White House.  In any event, President Trump is right – the future belongs to those who seize it, especially in space. 

Kent Johnson is a retired USAF F-15 Strike Eagle and A-10 Warthog pilot, and political-military advisor on the staff of the secretary of the Air Force, and an adjunct at North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas, specializing in defense studies.

 

Someone is listening to Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 moonwalker who landed, with Neil Armstrong, on the moon’ surface 50 years ago this year.  Aldrin has strongly suggested America is poised for another period of leadership in space -- from near-Earth orbit to settlement of Mars -- and the White House seems to be listening. 

First, President Trump introduced Buzz Aldrin at the State of the Union, noting America aimed to put American astronauts back on “American rockets” before long.  No more hitching rides on Russian rockets. 

Then, in a series of path-breaking actions, Trump pressed America’s national security priorities over globalism, signed robust “Buy American” executive orders, and Vice President Mike Pence announced the administration’s intent to put humans on the moon by 2024. 

If this were not enough, the President has emphasized American space leadership in a way not seen since John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  This time, the goal is not taking a Saturn V to the moon, or reengineering the Space Shuttle and International Space Station for success, but a new twin aim -- capturing public imagination on the way to placing humans Mars, and capturing market share from competitors in near-Earth orbit.

Taking the second aim first, space observers have noticed that Trump policies are encouraging market-based solutions, diversification of alternative launch options, public-private partnerships, “Buy America” emphasis -- presumably for manufacture and launch, as well as specific agency innovations, such as DARPA’s “launch challenge,” which seeks greater flexibility, speed to space, responsive launches, and cost containment.  All this vectors toward increased market share, in rocket launch and space exploration.

The other Trump Administration ambition is -- if possible -- bolder.  The President is following the hopes and dreams of Americans who lived through the breathtaking Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, as he did – and want to see America lead in space exploration.  The obvious goals are the moon – and if possible, Mars.

No president has been more serious-minded about space, or more determined to fulfil promises made – and this president has made a few.  No president has been bolder, and in no sector more bold than in space.  First, the White House Space Council, then the Space Force, more recently a commitment to beat competitors in space marketing, pushing “Buy America” and then going back to the moon by 2024. 

Now comes the zinger, which makes clear all the rest is not illusion, distraction, or false hope.  In Japan, the President went beyond elevated NASA and Space Force budgets, beyond the moon return promise and the DARPA Challenge.  He put his eyes on Mars, creating an interplanetary bridge between idealism and realism, wishes and outcomes, promise and practice. 

More specifically, President Trump went beyond hoping American launch companies win in near-Earth and racing to deep space.  He expressly pledged, standing beside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that the United States will be “going to Mars very soon,” and asked international cooperation.  He said, “Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts tospace, and added that “nothing is more important now than space.”

How soon Americans – with or without Japanese crewmates – get back to space on “American rockets,” and then how long it takes us to move to Mars is an open question.  But big things are afoot, and when a President makes announcements such as this one, hope lives anew among those who were alive during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

One who was, and who saluted the President directly at the 2019 State of the Union – was Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.  His aim is clearly in line with the President’s, as he laid out the ambition to initiate human migration to Mars in a recent Washington  Post op-ed

In that piece, Aldrin argued that we “should focus on opening the door, in our time, to the great migration of humankind to Mars… It is time we get down to blueprints, architecture and implementation, and to take that next step – a sustainable international return to the moon, directly charting a pathway to Mars.”

Like preserving American leadership in near-Earth orbit, the Aldrin piece advocating American leadership to Mars – taking Americans to Mars in the initial stages of migration – was riveting. Aldrin argued from science, history, hope, and personal space exploration experience.  His argument was compelling to average Americans who read it, perhaps also to some n the White House.  In any event, President Trump is right – the future belongs to those who seize it, especially in space. 

Kent Johnson is a retired USAF F-15 Strike Eagle and A-10 Warthog pilot, and political-military advisor on the staff of the secretary of the Air Force, and an adjunct at North Central Texas College in Gainesville, Texas, specializing in defense studies.