Newt Gingrich: Renewing American leadership in space

Occasionally you know that you are watching history being made. October 5, 2017 was such a day for me.

On that day, Vice President Mike Pence stood before the space shuttle Discovery and called to order the first meeting of the renewed National Space Council. Historians of tomorrow will regard the meeting at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center as the beginning of America’s return as the leader in mankind’s race to explore outer space.

The meeting was of course historic in the literal sense. This was the Space Council’s first meeting in nearly 25 years, since the Clinton Administration disbanded it in 1993.

But this month’s meeting was especially significant for another reason. It signaled a serious change in the way the United States approaches and interacts with space. In addition to attendees from government agencies such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and others, the room at was filled with key people from private enterprise who are currently working to break out and lead the world in space activity.

During the council meeting, Ozmen described a future where you could travel anywhere on the globe in 45 minutes or less.

The council heard from leaders at Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, both of which are pioneering reusable rocket technology that will help greatly reduce the cost of getting into outer space.

Fatih Ozmen, the CEO of Sierra Nevada Corporation, spoke about his company’s Dream Chaser space vehicle, which is designed to launch from a rocket, perform a mission in space, then return and land on any runway that can accommodate a large passenger airplane. The vehicle can be used more than 15 times, which represents a huge step forward for regular space flight, space tourism, and potentially high-speed travel here on earth. During the council meeting, Ozmen described a future where you could travel anywhere on the globe in 45 minutes or less.

The private sector’s investment in space is extremely important. Private innovation will help launch us out of the old, government bureaucracy-led model, which has become inundated with red tape, risk aversion and politics, and into a more dynamic era that’s driven by competition, technology, and enterprise.

From his chairman’s seat on the National Space Council, Vice President Pence has the opportunity to help unlock NASA, reform decades-old flight regulations, and make it possible for the private industry to achieve breakthroughs that will fundamentally change life on earth.

I am especially excited about Vice President Pence’s recognition that it is important to put Americans back on the Moon – and that going to the Moon is about more than just landing there. He said, “We will return American astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”

The Vice President correctly described the Moon as “a stepping stone” for America to reach the real potential of space. In addition to going to Mars, that potential includes asteroid mining, zero-gravity manufacturing, deep space travel, advances in propulsion systems, and other breakthroughs which could propel human beings into a wide-open future.

During his inaugural address, President Donald Trump pledged that America would once again look to the stars and “unlock the mysteries of space.” This first meeting of the National Space Council was an important step to accomplishing the President’s goals.

The council’s next job will be to fully analyze our current policies on space and make recommendations to President Trump on how to move forward. Based on what I saw earlier this month, America will soon be leading the world in space travel – and inspiring a new generation of Americans to explore the stars.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is "Understanding Trump."