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Tags: nasa | space launch system | china

America Needs NASA's Space Launch System

America Needs NASA's Space Launch System
This undated handout from NASA shows an artist's concept of the Space Launch System and the mobile launch platform rolling to the launch pad. NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, will be the most powerful rocket in history. (NASA via Getty Images)

Travis Korson By Tuesday, 04 December 2018 11:09 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

For years, experts have known that China wants to take control over low earth orbit in order to gain a military advantage over the United States on Earth, so why would bureaucrats create an environment that gives them a better hand of cards? Beats me, but that’s exactly what some are proposing today.

With headlines ranging from “Why China Wants A Super Rocket Like NASA’s Space Launch System,” “China aims to launch a rocket larger than NASA’s SLS in 2028,” and “China aims to outstrip NASA with super-powerful rocket,” one would think that there is a clear message for U.S. political decision makers here: keep the Space Launch System (SLS) going.

As explained by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “[SLS] is an important part of making America great,” particularly in getting the United States back to the Moon and beyond, with deep space ventures to places like Mars. When completed, it will be the only rocket built with the explicit purpose of sending humans beyond low Earth orbit. In a nutshell, what we have here is the most powerful rocket in U.S. history opening unchartered territory that many countries are racing to get to, in part for military reasons. No wonder China is doing its best to replicate it.

As the Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson wrote in Forbes, “having a rocket comparable in size to NASA's Space Launch System could materially enhance the warfighting capabilities of China's military. Beijing presumably could use such a rocket in other ways to enhance its prestige, for example by lofting into orbit a space telescope far more capable than NASA’s currently planned James Webb system. There are lots of possibilities.”

China understands how much super-heavy-lift rockets like the SLS mean to national security and military prowess. Does the U.S.? Certain recent events lead me to believe that many officials still do not understand the many capabilities of the SLS or the effects that the big rocket has on the rest of the world. In fact, some analysts are proposing that we scrap the SLS, one of the major advantages we have over growing powers like China. Doing so would be a terrible mistake — one that this country cannot afford to make.

For example, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, who has been very critical of SLS from the start, came out with an audit that slammed the launch system’s cost overruns without any context. He appeared to greatly overstate the costs, blindly assume the worst possible outcomes, and harp on problems that NASA has already fixed or was already working on rectifying before issuance of the report. Beyond these issues, though, he appears to be ignoring the fact that building something of this size and power is unprecedented.

Responding to Martin’s audit, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “It’s without question we’re behind schedule and over cost. It’s also without question that NASA has already put in place a lot of the things necessary to get us back on track.” He continued: “I can’t emphasize enough that what NASA does are things that have never been done before. It’s sometimes difficult to assess what the cost is going to be and how long it is going to take. And we have to invent things along the way.”

Bridenstine is of course right. It's foolish to think that changing the course and direction of America’s space attitude and goals should come overnight, but with SLS, the country is already most of the way there. The light at the end of the tunnel is already in sight. After all, if SLS isn't working, then why would China spend so much time working to duplicate it as best it can? Why devote so many resources to challenging a non-threat?

Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, thinks that, like aircraft carriers, SLS is a necessary piece of national infrastructure. Washington shouldn’t wait until it’s too late, and China is knocking on America’s door, to find out he is right. It should dismiss the critics, get its facts right, and continue developing the rocket that will advance America’s space footprint into the next generation.

“Providing for the common defense” is one of the first responsibilities of government outlined in the constitution and as such is one of the areas most worthy of taxpayer funding. The SLS certainly fits this bill. There are many wasteful pork projects that our tax dollars go towards, but the SLS is not one of them. Don’t let the naysayers ruin America’s space policy.

Travis Korson is a veteran of politics with years of experience in campaigns, communications, and public policy. He previously served in the Bush White House and has also spent time at various conservative organizations and government institutions including the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He is a graduate of the George Washington University where he studied International Affairs with a focus on International Economics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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For years, experts have known that China wants to take control over low earth orbit in order to gain a military advantage over the United States on Earth, so why would bureaucrats create an environment that gives them a better hand of cards?
nasa, space launch system, china
Tuesday, 04 December 2018 11:09 AM
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