This summer, to protect our national security and "[restore] America's proud legacy of leadership in space," President Trump signed an executive order reviving the National Space Council. Last week marked the first meeting in over 25 years for the Council, which is now chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.
The event, titled "Leading the New Frontier," allotted time for "key leaders of the civil, commercial, and military space communities to discuss the key issues facing their sectors." This diversity is significant because it shows that rather than blindly complying with the wishes of Silicon Valley gurus and pseudo-experts in the tech blogosphere, the White House will likely be taking a careful, objective look at each mission and company proposal to ensure that every decision puts America's security first.
The probability of the council's impartiality was also shown by the amount of speaking time given to representatives from most of the major aerospace manufacturers — old and new — including Sierra Nevada, Lockheed Martin, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Boeing.
It is encouraging that new start-ups were offered a seat at the table, as they are expected to bring a lot of spark to the industry in the years to come. The Council also appears to realize that turning over private space efforts to one or two government-favored manufacturers is irresponsible and un-American.
SpaceX, in particular, has already demonstrated its worth by often cutting costs by large margins. At the same time, though, an early look into the thought process of the National Space Council demonstrates that the Trump administration also understands the risk of putting too many of its cards into the hands of unseasoned players.
For example, Scott Pace, Executive Secretary for the National Security Council, has praised SpaceX for "outstanding" achievements, while also expressing concern regarding SpaceX's somewhat regular mission delays. In an interview with CQ Press, he said, "Elon Musk sat in my office in 2002 and told me he'd have 10 launches a year by 2006. I'm still looking at my watch."
While SpaceX has improved the industry in many ways, it has also had its share of blunders and mission delays. These recent shortcomings include a $110 million NASA failure and a September 2016 one that compromised a $60 million government contract and $200 million Facebook satellite. As of February, the company has a $10 billion backlog of more than 70 missions.
To be fair, SpaceX is not alone: historically, the majority of new aerospace programs and companies faced delays and growing pains. This fact is the precise reason why, at this time and under these conditions, relying too heavily on one provider would be so dangerous.
Still, Silicon Valley innovators are bringing a significant amount of revolutionary ideas to the drawing boards. Policymakers should never discount their worth and always listen to their plans to cut costs and better the globe with open ears. Yet, they also should not succumb to tunnel vision and prioritize their goals and dreams over the best interests of America's national security.
Not long ago, many believe the Obama administration was too pliable to some in Silicon Valley when it created two new government agencies, 18F and the United States Digital Service (USDS), to allegedly cut costs by using open-source technology. In doing so, not only did the government circumvent routine security procedures, it also apparently misused tens of millions of dollars and contributed to widescale security breaches.
This case study shows just how extreme the consequences of pushing careful deliberation aside can be in the realm of national security.
Vice President Pence is a lifelong follower of the space industry. During his remarks, he said that he "caught space fever" when he was a kid and that "some of the most precious memories of [his] youth" were centered around watching the difference-makers that helped America rival the Soviet Union. Given this bit of information, it is not surprising that he took time to point out "the legendary SR-71 Blackbird" to the crowd, which he described as "the spy plane that led America's reconnaissance operations during the Cold War, faster than three times the speed of sound . . . "
It appears that Mike Pence understands that to maintain an America First space policy, The Trump administration will have to remain thoughtful and objective. This means continuing to utilize the minds of those that helped America prosper during the Cold War, while also making sure to embrace the new manufacturers that will are expected to help the industry progress and grow.
America's national security is worth more than winning a few points with Silicon Valley and the mainstream media. Thankfully, it appears that the National Space Council already recognizes this at an early stage.
Drew Johnson is a Senior Scholar at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and National Director of Protect Internet Freedom. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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