The United States won the Cold War. The world was benefited by the fact that a pro-liberty, pro-human rights nation became the world’s sole superpower. Had that superpower been the former Soviet Union or current China, the world would be a much less free, happy and prosperous place.
Thanos, in the Marvel movies, was the ultimate supervillain. His goal was to kill half of all human life. Of course, Thanos is a make-believe villain. But there are real-life villains who have no problem brutally repressing and killing those they see as their subjects. When evil regimes have power, the people suffer — often horrifically. History proves that.
It is not inconsequential or coincidental that the U.S. also won the race to the moon. Being able to defend yourself from hostile powers has always been easier when you have the high ground and the superior technology. While no battles were fought on the surface of the moon, the technological advances that we obtained by making the trip helped our nation win the Cold War and benefited the entire free world.
This is one of the reasons that space exploration isn’t simply a fun hobby or a matter of national pride. Looking back at history, when Thomas Jefferson was president, it is clear that the Lewis and Clark exploration of America’s vast western frontier (1803-1806) was about a lot more than just mapping the frontier or learning about it. Part of the mission that Jefferson gave them was establishing our national presence in the west so that European powers didn’t claim it as their own and use it as a launch point to attack our young nation. Jefferson wasn’t imagining the risk. Only a few years later, the British did attack America — but not from the western frontier.
In today’s world, space exploration serves many vital national interests. China very much wants to overtake us in space exploration and its motives are not about advancing the cause of mankind. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the critics of China’s repressive and violent domination of Hong Kong.
The good news is that the United States is making important strides to reestablish its leadership role in space and space exploration. We just witnessed a very important test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). It was a successful test and shows that America is once again Earth’s most capable nation in space exploration. We cannot afford to lose the momentum. We need for national leaders to fully support our efforts in space.
One thing that most Americans don’t understand is that as interesting as it has been to watch the development of SpaceX’s Vulcan Heavy and Falcon Heavy, they are limited in their capabilities. In fact, using lift capability as the measure, SpaceX’s options are less than 1/2 as capable as the current SLS and they will be only about 1/3 as capable as the next generation SLS. While it is true that SpaceX has lowered the cost of a generic space launch, the truth is that SLS can get us to the moon and Mars and beyond. Neither the Vulcan nor Falcon have the lift capability to do that.
Moreover, if we were to build the International Space Station (ISS) now, using SLS to send the parts and equipment into space, we could do it with only three launches. Even though each individual launch would be more expensive, SLS’s vastly superior lift capability would make the entire mission far, far less expensive. It took more than 30 launches to build the ISS with less capable space vehicles.
To state that differently, if you were moving across the country, a single trip in a small commuter car would be the cheapest option to make the 2,500 mile drive. But if you were hoping to move more than a few people, you’d quickly find that a larger, more capable vehicle would actually be cheaper to accomplish the mission of getting your belongings and furniture across the country. We all understand this point and would never seriously consider moving a house full of furniture and household belongings across the country in a Honda Civic.
The bottom line is that America needs SLS if we hope to maintain our advantage in space and continue to be the world’s high technology leader. The new Biden Administration and Congress must continue to support America’s leadership in space. It isn’t merely a matter of national pride or a geeky hobby. We, of course, learn so much in science, health, medicine,and technology when we explore. And history has proven over and over that we must always lead in technology and have the high ground if we hope to keep the world’s despots and totalitarians at bay.