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Trump's Mission to Mars Needs Internationalism to Succeed
by Ovi Magazine Guest
2017-04-06 09:52:39
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Trump's Mission to Mars Needs Internationalism to Succeed
By George Cassidy Payne

First of all, Trump’s bold commitment to land human voyagers on the Red Planet in the next 15 years is not his idea. In a 2016 Op-Ed, President Obama declared: “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.”

mars01_400_01Nevertheless, after nearly three months of bludgeoning lunacy and shocking ineptitude from the White House, it was more than a little refreshing to hear Mr. Trump actually support an initiative that I can agree with. Here is what is happening.

With a room full of astronauts, technocrats, legislators, and journalists standing around him, the president authorized a new law that will allocate 19.5 billion in spending for NASA. This program includes putting human beings on the surface of Mars by 2033.  As Trump read:
“For almost 6 decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine worlds and a better future right here on Earth…I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of
NASA: human space exploration, space science, and technology.”

This is a bipartisan, public-private partnership that will support the use of the international Space Station through 2024, enable a commercial space launch system, propel the Orion Space Craft, supply ongoing medical monitoring of astronauts, focus on deep space exploration, and do something that the human race has longed for since antiquity.  As astronaut Sally Ride put it: “Studying whether there’s life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there’s something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That’s something that is almost part of being human, and I’m certain that will continue.”

Trump’s NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2024, will help to satisfy our human quest for knowledge. It will take us beyond the outer realms of what we once thought possible. On this, if nothing else, it appears that both Obama and Trump grasp the symbolic, scientific, and soul lifting value of going to Mars.

But, it is necessary to point out that Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, the kind that has characterized the darkest elements of his candidacy, is simply irrelevant when referring to deep space exploration. There is no such thing as a unilateral national space program. Not any more. The bottom line is that all space programs are international. The science behind every equation involved in going to Mars is international. The technology needed to get there is international. In the end, the very pursuit of going there in the first place is a challenge that all humanity embraces. The achievement would be a milestone for the entire world.

What is more, it does not make practical sense to pit one nation against another in a modern space race. Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
said: “I have no desire to do a Mars landing on our own.. The U.S.
cannot always be the leader, but we can be the inspirational leader through international cooperation in space exploration.” The mission inevitably will be international, as will any future human landings on the moon, Bolden said. After-all, “We already have gone there first.”

And to state the obvious, space has been an international community for almost two decades. The International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998. It is the largest person constructed object in space and can be seen with the naked eye from Earth. ISS is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft: the Russian Soyuz and Progress, the American Dragon and Cygnus, the Japanese H-11 Transfer Vehicle, and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle are frequent guests. It has been visited by astronauts, cosmonauts, and space tourists from 17 different countries.

Lastly, if Mr. Trump thinks that his mission will happen without China, he should think again. The Chinese government has committed fully to its space program, seeing it as a means to secure global advantage.

China launched its first orbital space lab, a small module called
Tiangong-1 (the name means “heavenly palace”), in 2011. The next big step will be the construction of a full-scale space station, due for completion around 2020.

Brian Harvey, author of the recent book China in Space writes: “They are very disciplined in not letting themselves be rushed. China is very conscious of its history. They’ve been doing rocketry since 1274, so what’s the hurry?”

In fact, the Chinese expect to complete their space station around the same time ISS runs out of funding. Who will be in the driver seat then?

Still, I do not want to throw cold water on the president. Trump’s initiative is the most ambitious, well meaning, and socially purposeful directive to come out of his White House so far. It has tremendous potential to not only increase human understanding of terrestrial life, geology, planetary science, medicine, and biotechnology; it also has the potential to galvanize America’s commitment to STEM education, and to help our nation become part of an international effort that unites our collective species. As a religious humanitarian, political liberal, and reason loving, community college philosophy professor, I hope it works.
I really do.

But, I want to be absolutely clear, Trump’s xenophobic and jingoistic “America First” mentality is not compatible with how NASA functions.
Will Trump get on board and lead by following? Or will he try to make this about himself and fail once again like he did with the travel ban, Russian hacking investigation and health care?

Interesting times indeed.

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