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Op-ed | Next space race



Last week, President Biden nominated former Senator Bill Nelson to be the 14th NASA administrator. This nomination comes at a critical time, and Senator Nelson is no stranger to Capitol Hill, NASA or even the Space Launch System.

Artemis Team astronauts
NASA astronauts (from left) Jessica Meir, Joseph Acaba, Jessica Watkins, Matthew Dominick and Anne McClain discuss being part of the Artemis team of astronauts after December 9, 2020, meeting of the National Space Council. Credit: NASA TV

OApril 2, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called on Congress to form the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Soviet Union succeeded in the space zone, and President Eisenhower knew it was important for the United States to win the space race or face serious national security consequences. Congress met that conversation 12 days later when both the Senate and the House of Representatives introduced legislation to create today’s NASA. Nearly a decade after President Eisenhower made the first call for action, Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for all of humanity.

We have now entered a new space race for the moon and beyond. Russia and China have entered the arena, with both countries recently signing a memorandum of understanding to create a common lunar station.

Russia, which has been a long-standing partner with NASA on the International Space Station, sent a clear signal by forming an alliance with China to explore the moon, instead of continuing its historic partnership by joining the United States and the rest of the international space community. in a return to the moon.

China has recently made great strides in its own space program. In November last year, China launched its successful robot Chang’e-5 mission, bringing back new samples from the moon, and while they were there, it planted a Chinese flag showing the nation’s growing ability in space. The return marked the first probe to retrieve samples from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

We, as a nation, can not only rejoice in our past achievements in exploring the moon. Imagine the eerie scenario of China or Russia removing the American flag that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the moon in 1969 and returning it to Earth to use as propaganda to advance their own interests in space travel.

During his tenure, President Trump, Vice President Pence and NASA Administrator Bridenstine laid the foundation for the United States to remain the leader in the world’s space domain. We worked together to restore the National Space Council, witnessed the resurgence of American rockets, launched American astronauts from American soil using commercially provided launch vehicles, established the Space Force and called for a new era of space research – return to the moon through the Artemis program .

It is important that we continue to build on the foundation of Artemis, which will eventually move beyond returning to the moon, and further toward a goal of landing astronauts on Mars.

Last week, President Biden nominated former Senator Bill Nelson to be the 14th NASA administrator. This nomination comes at a critical time, and Senator Nelson is no stranger to Capitol Hill, NASA or even the Space Launch System. During his confirmation process, I expect Senator Nelson to follow his own words that the NASA administrator “should not be a politician,” but instead be a “complete astronaut.” With roots spanning multiple administrations, Artemis will not survive if it is now thrown as a partisan program. The scientific and technical characteristics embedded in the Artemis program are supported on both sides of the aisle, and the objectives will only be achieved through a holistic and two-pronged approach. I also expect Senator Nelson to show absolute support for Artemis by prioritizing the program in the administration’s budget request to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

I’m part of the Apollo generation, and I remember the bold visions of our leaders that gave incredible and heroic achievements that brought this country together and inspired 50 years of space research. Leaders had again set bold deadlines for landing Americans on the moon by 2024, and this goal has put the United States at the forefront of returning astronauts to the moon. But if we postpone and delay the Artemis mission until 2025, 2026 or even 2030, there is no doubt that we will lose this space race to Russia and China.

It’s time to inspire the Artemis generation. The new administration’s early statements about their support for Artemis and the direction of the program are encouraging, but words alone will not bring us back to the moon.

I thank President Eisenhower for his call to action and urge President Biden and Senator Nelson to fully support the Artemis mission not just through words but action. I fear the nation’s leadership in space is in danger if we do not.


U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Cans.) Is a ranking member of the Senate’s grant, NASA’s Justice and Science Committee, and serves on the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science.


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