This week has shown how serious and determined the Trump-Pence team is about launching America into a new era of leadership in space – and ensuring our dominance there for generations to come.
Consider President Trump’s announcement at the National Space Policy Council meeting on Monday that the Department of Defense will create a U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of our military. Couple this with the announcement of Space Policy Directive-3, which will create the world’s first official system for extraterrestrial traffic management – and the continued effort by the Department of Commerce to streamline commercial access to space. Each of these actions represents a tremendous step forward in the development of our economy and civilization beyond the planet. Taken together, they are game-changing and truly historic.
First, establishing the U.S. Space Force is the clearest possible way for President Trump to tell our international allies (and opponents) that America is serious about national security in space. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted at the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group meeting on Tuesday that the principle purpose of the Navy is to protect our seaborne commerce. Similarly, Bridenstine asserted that the principle purpose of the Space Force will be to protect and defend our space economy.
This announcement was a powerful signal to young Americans that they can expect to have careers in space during their lifetime. Just as young patriots have traveled the globe on land, air, and sea while serving our country, soon American Space Force members will be able to protect our nation in cislunar space, the Moon, or beyond.
Finally, calling for the establishment of the Space Force was an excellent way to bypass the bureaucratic resistance President Trump would have faced had he tried to push our terrestrial service branches into focusing resources outside the atmosphere. Military operations in space will require new, specialized thinking, training, and equipping different from those of current military branches. A dedicated service will be able to accomplish significantly more for our space-based national defense.
President Trump’s signing of Space Policy Directive-3 on Monday was also very significant. Not only does it set the pace of the Administration’s expectations (it is the third actionable space policy directive in three meetings of the National Space Council) but it could also help solidify America’s central role in space travel globally.
The directive calls for the development of a U.S. space traffic management policy. This may sound like a bureaucratic step, but maritime law was largely written by the British because England had the most sea commerce and wrote the rules. Similarly, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote the standard rules in air travel because the U.S. had the largest commercial aviation sector. President Trump and Vice President Pence are determined to repeat this pattern of leadership in space.
In addition to following President Trump’s administration-wide instruction to cut expensive regulations, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been diligently working to consolidate and streamline space regulations into the Office of Space Commerce. The ultimate goal is to turn the office into a one-stop shop for all federal regulations required for activities outside the atmosphere. While this is still in process, I heard from several commercial space business leaders at the Users’ Advisory Group meeting on Tuesday who said Ross’s actions have already been a tremendous help.
All of these initiatives add up to truly remarkable progress in bringing America back into the leadership position in the new space race. Aside from sheer power of vision and force of will, President Trump has been able to achieve this early success because he has built an exemplary team.
Vice President Pence’s background and passion for space policy (combined with the power of his position) make him the perfect person to chair the renewed National Space Council. This is bolstered and optimized by the experience and professionalism of Scott Pace, the National Space Council’s executive secretary.
Similarly, I could not think of a better person to lead NASA than Administrator Bridenstine. Like the Vice President, Bridenstine has been a thoughtful, aggressive advocate for American space leadership since serving in Congress. I’m confident that Administrator Bridenstine will be able to take his enthusiasm and his knowledge of the U.S. space program to implement changes at NASA necessary to make it a pioneering 21st-century space agency.
Finally, I was thoroughly impressed by Admiral James Ellis, chairman of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group (UAG) – a group that, as he pointed out, had never actually met until Tuesday (even during past incarnations of the National Space Council). Admiral Ellis’s ability to lead, coordinate, and mediate a group of more than two dozen top commercial and intellectual space leaders will be critical to making the UAG as effective and important as it can and should be.
The Trump-Pence administration has already demonstrated an impressive willingness to break our country out of old habits and steer us toward a better future here on Earth. If they can keep up this momentum (and I think they will) we will soon be the nation that leads our world into a new pioneering age of commerce, science, and exploration beyond Earth.
It has been a truly amazing two days – especially for those of us who believe in the importance of space for the future of all mankind.