This month marks both the 60th anniversary of the first human in space as well as the 40th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle flight. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961, and the first space shuttle flight happened on April 12, 1981.
That stated, this month is also an appropriate time to acknowledge that in many ways, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants entrepreneur Elon Musk – through the achievements and promise of his SpaceX Corp. – is about to morph into the American human spaceflight program.
If you don’t believe it, just wait.
For those who do care about American preeminence in space and understand the vital role it plays in our national and economic security – President John F. Kennedy, anyone – this latest change in presidential administrations is a very precarious time.
Under the best of circumstances, a change from one president to the next – and especially one political party to the next – has always proven to be problematic for NASA and those who do see the value of America’s preeminence in space. It has been so because new presidents and their team automatically nitpick, unwind or cancel policies instituted by the previous president and his team.
That stated, going from a more conservative-minded president who does advocate for American preeminence in space to a more liberal-minded president who generally feels NASA money should be reallocated to domestic policies has always proven to be a nightmare for NASA and all who care about American preeminence in space.
This is not about politics or ideology, but rather, reality. Any president is entitled to lead our nation in the direction he or she feels best. That said, decisions do have consequences. Some, more catastrophic than others.
Take, for example, the transition from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama. In terms of maintaining and building upon America’s preeminence in space, it was devastating.
The United States is still literally and figuratively paying a very high price for that transition in policy.
President Bush did believe in American preeminence in space and was pushing NASA and his administration to achieve that policy. President Obama on the other hand, felt decidedly differently. By his own admission, he was not particularly a fan of America’s human spaceflight program and therefore redirected much of NASA’s budget toward domestic educational programs.
By doing so, for all intents and purposes, President Obama ended our American-built and American-launched human spaceflight program. Soon, we were paying the Russians upwards of $90 million per seat to fly our astronauts to the International Space Station primarily built with American tax dollars.
Fast forward to the most recent election. Like him or not, former President Donald J. Trump believed strongly in American preeminence in space. He did believe it was a national and economic security imperative.
President Joe Biden – like President Obama before him – does not place our human spaceflight program and American preeminence in space high on his list of priorities.
Biden – who recently nominated former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as the next administrator of NASA – and his team have indicated that reallocating much of the NASA budget toward the study of climate change would be a better use of those funds.
Again, it is President Biden’s prerogative to prioritize any policy he chooses. That acknowledged, the signals he and his team are sending indicate that his new policy initiatives will cripple America’s human spaceflight program while ceding preeminence in space to the People’s Republic of China and its military-run space program.
Then, we have entrepreneur, visionary, true pioneer Elon Musk.
I don’t care what his politics or ideology are and hope he realizes it is counterproductive to be a partisan for any side. The only thing that matters is that Musk truly believes in getting Americans and humanity out into space in a permanent way.
While I disagree with his focus on Mars and believe his genius and resources should be redirected toward first colonizing the Moon for a host of pragmatic reasons, I strongly applaud his unwavering resolve.
For those not paying attention, with the last two manned SpaceX launches, Musk and his company literally morphed into the entirety of the American-built and American-launched space program.
Prior to the incredibly successful and awe-inspiring launch of Musk’s Crew Dragon spacecraft atop his Falcon 9 booster on May 30, 2020, it had been nine long years since the United States launched its own astronauts.
Almost a decade wasted and never to be gotten back for those who believe it’s vital for the United States to expand its reach into space.
Some in the media, industry and even Congress, mistakenly and foolishly focus on the latest mishap involving a prototype for Musk’s revolutionary next spaceship called "Starship." In doing so, they fail to see a future which is very clear to Musk.
As it was over 500 years ago when ships left the Old World for the new in North America, exploration and advancement of civilization involves risk and sometimes, tragedy.
The exploration and colonization of space is a high-risk business. But one with ultimately precious rewards. The first of those being the very preservation of humanity.
Musk does realize that for humanity to survive some representation of it must be relocated out of the Earth basket that is vulnerable to so many civilization-ending calamities.
As the Biden administration redirects NASA yet again, look toward Elon Musk. He may be our only hope.