By Greg Young
As a child, I was my Mom’s space and science buddy. Beginning with Apollo 8, the first lunar mission, because we were living in California it meant getting up in the middle of the night and being glued to the television. My Mom knew we were watching history in the making and she did not want me to miss it. My first model and school project that I remember was making a space module and moon surface in a box. I have also been amazed at all of the scientific discoveries that were made in the science of the space program. Things that we would not have today without space exploration like LED’s, Artificial Limbs, Ventricular Assist Devices, Highway Safety and more. This is why there has been a battle to keep NASA funded.
The same thing is true in the battle over the funding of the International Space Station.
To be sure, the ISS isn’t dead yet. Far from it. But some are apparently eager to declare it to be. The Trump administration says it plans to fund the station through 2025, and then try to turn it over to private interests. If a buyer isn’t found, though, “it could be deorbited, or recycled for future space stations in orbit,” as space.com writes.
Privatization is often effective, of course. There are many projects the private sector is better at than the government is. But this case would be especially tricky.
For one thing, buyers aren’t lining up. As the Washington Post pointed out, “it was unclear, who, if anyone, would want to take over operations of the station.” Frank Slazer is vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association. “It will be very hard to turn ISS into a truly commercial outpost because of the international agreements that the United States is involved in,” he told the Post. “It’s inherently always going to be an international construct that requires U.S. government involvement and multinational cooperation.”
At a recent congressional hearing, NASA’s own Inspector General told lawmakers, “we question whether a sufficient business case exists under which private companies can create a self-sustaining and profit-making business using the ISS independent of significant government funding.” Paul Martin also noted that, “the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agency’s current plans.”
Luckily, there is plenty of support for maintaining federal funding of the ISS. “Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said during the recent hearing. “We cannot afford to continue to pursue policies that have consequences of creating gaps in capability, that send $3 1/2 billion in taxpayer money to the Russian government, or that create a leadership vacuum in low-earth orbit that provides a window of opportunity for the Chinese to capitalize on it.”
Cruz and his Democrat colleague, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, are working to maintain federal funding for the ISS. Doing so will be important, because in years to come NASA is going to want to go further into space and the ISS is a good starting point. It’s a useful testing ground, showing us how to live in space and how to get out of Earth’s orbit. It may even need to be a launching pad, if we reach for other planets in the solar system.
I would also hope that they would consider the natural pairing of the ISS with the newly announced Sixth Branch of the US Military. Seems to me a Space station is a good place to start a Military Space Program as well and the funding for it should not be hard to justify.
It’s already paid big scientific dividends. It’s been occupied every day since November of 2000, and has been home to hundreds of people from a total of 18 countries. It’s driving science forward by showing how the human body reacts to living in zero gravity, and it’s allowing astronauts to experiment by growing their own food (and eating it) in space.
Luckily, Sen. Cruz has what will be the final word. “It will be Congress that is the final arbiter of how long ISS receives federal funding,” he said during those congressional hearings. That funding should keep flowing for many years to come, so the ISS can keep delivering effective scientific advances. Its funeral needs to remain a long way off
Greg Young, is host of the nationally syndicated Chosen Generation Radio Show which airs Monday thru Friday on Stations coast to coast. Discover more at chosengenerationradio.com.