New Space Race

August 4, 2017 – Volume 27, Issue 28
Is the U.S. falling behind Russia and China? By Patrick Marshall


U.S. astronaut Randy Bresnik, top, and fellow crew members (AFP/Getty Images/Dmitri Lovetsky)  
U.S. astronaut Randy Bresnik, top, and fellow crew members from Russia and the European Space Agency depart for the International Space Station from a Russian-operated launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on July 28. The U.S. space program has depended heavily on Russian assistance since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. (AFP/Getty Images/Dmitri Lovetsky)

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969, the United States was widely proclaimed the victor in the space race with the Soviet Union. Today, however, with the U.S. space shuttle program no longer in operation, NASA pays Russia to transport U.S. crews to the International Space Station and the Pentagon depends on Russian rocket engines to launch its military satellites into orbit. In addition, China's space program is growing rapidly, and U.S. officials worry it threatens American space assets, including military satellites. Policymakers also fear that U.S. satellites are at risk from accidental collisions. Meanwhile, NASA is planning for deep-space missions, even as some experts say these missions cost too much and the agency should rely more on private spaceflight companies. Other debates focus on whether the United States should return astronauts to the moon, as President Trump wants NASA to do in the next two years, and whether humans or robots should take the lead in exploring space.

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On July 28, U.S. astronaut Randy Bresnik wedged himself into a seat custom-molded to his body and braced himself to hurtle into the sky at about 17 times the speed of sound on his second trip to the International Space Station. But the retired Marine colonel from Santa Monica, Calif., wasn't aboard a U.S.-made rocket, nor was he lifting off from iconic Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Instead, he and his fellow crew members — a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut with the European Space Agency — arrived at the space station aboard a Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft about six hours after launching from Kazakhstan.1

Since 2011, when the U.S. space shuttle program ended, the United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the space station.2

America's dependence on the Soyuz is just one of the many ways international activities in space have changed in the 48 years since the United States won the space race with the Soviet Union by landing humans on the moon.

Today, space is a much more crowded, complicated and strategically important arena, not only for the United States but for its adversaries. U.S. officials are working to determine how to protect vital satellites and other space hardware from sabotage and accidental collisions, how much of a role the aerospace industry should play in space exploration and how to prioritize space missions in an era of competing visions and tight budgets.

China's Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (AFP/Getty Images/STR)  
China's Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, known as Insight, is lifted onto a Long March-4B rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The telescope was launched on June 15 to observe black holes, neutron stars and other phenomena. China is now the third major space power, after Russia and the U.S. Since launching its first astronaut into space in 2003, China has landed a rover on the moon, placed its own space lab into orbit and boosted its space spending to an estimated $110 million in 2015. U.S. officials worry that China's rapidly growing space program could threaten American space assets, including military satellites. (AFP/Getty Images/STR)

“Our adversaries have seen what a significant advantage space provides the U.S. and have responded by looking for ways to neutralize or destroy our space capabilities,” said Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, a member of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “The U.S. is in the unique position of having the most to gain and most to lose in space.”3

The flurry of new activity in space has produced “a new space race” involving “a crowd of new actors, from developing countries to small startups,” according to Dave Baiocchi and William Welser IV, engineering professors at the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Unlike in the first space race, the challenge in this one will not be technical,” they said. “It will be figuring out how to regulate this welter of new activity.”4

The United States owes much of its military dominance on the ground to its satellites. It has 576 working satellites in orbit — more than twice as many as any other country — providing communications, weapons guidance, navigation and other services.5

“We can attack any target on the planet, anytime, anywhere, in any weather,” Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, said recently.6

But those satellites are increasingly vulnerable to attack themselves.

Lt. Gen. John W. Raymond, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, an arm of the U.S. Strategic Command tasked with securing U.S. military satellites, told Congress in 2015 that Russia and China have successfully tested anti-satellite weapons (ASATs).

“We are quickly approaching the point where every satellite and every orbit can be threatened,” he said.7

The U.S. space programs’ dependence on Russia also poses a potential national security concern, experts say. Besides paying Moscow for rides to the International Space Station — the price is now $74.7 million per seat — the United States also relies on Russian-made rockets to launch American military satellites into space.8

The line graph shows the percentage of NASA's share of the federal budget from 1958 to 2017.  

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The nation's civilian space agency received almost 4.5 percent of the federal budget in 1966 as the United States raced to beat the Soviet Union to the moon. But NASA's share of overall federal spending declined after that and has not topped 1 percent since 1993. Still, the United States led Russia and China on spending on space programs in 2013, the most recent year for which data were available for all three nations. U.S. space-related spending totaled $39.3 billion that year, compared to $6.1 billion in China and $5.3 billion in Russia.

Sources: Kimberly Amadeo, “NASA Budget: Current Funding and History,” The Balance, May 25, 2017,; “The U.S. Federal Budget,” Inside Gov, undated,; “Nasa budgets: US spending on space travel since 1958 UPDATED,” The Guardian, 2010,; and “Which countries spend the most on space exploration?” World Economic Forum, Jan. 11, 2016,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Year Percentage of federal budget
1958 0.10%
1959 0.20%
1960 0.50%
1961 0.90%
1962 1.18%
1963 2.29%
1964 3.52%
1965 4.31%
1966 4.41%
1967 3.45%
1968 2.65%
1969 2.31%
1970 1.92%
1971 1.61%
1972 1.48%
1973 1.35%
1974 1.21%
1975 0.98%
1976 0.99%
1976 0.99%
1977 0.98%
1978 0.91%
1979 0.87%
1980 0.84%
1981 0.82%
1982 0.83%
1983 0.85%
1984 0.83%
1985 0.77%
1986 0.75%
1987 0.76%
1988 0.85%
1989 0.96%
1990 0.99%
1991 1.05%
1992 1.01%
1993 1.01%
1994 0.94%
1995 0.88%
1996 0.89%
1997 0.90%
1998 0.86%
1999 0.80%
2001 0.76%
2002 0.72%
2003 0.68%
2004 0.66%
2005 0.63%
2006 0.57%
2007 0.58%
2008 0.60%
2009 0.54%
2010 0.55%
2011 0.53%
2012 0.54%
2013 0.52%
2014 0.55%
2015 0.54%
2016 0.55%
2017 0.53% (estimated)

“Today, Russia holds many of our most precious national security satellites at risk before they ever get off the ground,” Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a hearing in January 2016.9

Even apart from national security concerns, “it is embarrassing that the U.S. has not for years had the ability to put a human in orbit and must rely on Russia,” James A. Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told Congress last year.10

Further complicating U.S. space strategy is China's rapid rise as the third major space power. China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has landed a rover on the moon, placed its own space lab into orbit and boosted its space spending to an estimated $110 million in 2015.11 In January, Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of China's National Space Administration, announced that the country plans to launch its first Mars rover around 2020.12

Chinese officials have made clear they plan to rapidly develop offensive capabilities in space. In a 2014 speech at China's air force headquarters, President Xi Jinping told officers “to speed up air and space integration and sharpen their offensive and defensive capabilities.” In 2007, the country caused an international furor when it destroyed one of its own satellites to test an anti-satellite missile.13

Other countries also pose potential threats to U.S. satellites, according to a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. India, Iran, South Korea, North Korea and the 22 member states of the European Space Agency are capable of launching their own satellites into orbit, increasing the likelihood of accidental or deliberate collisions. At the end of 2016, there were 1,459 active satellites in orbit.14

Meanwhile, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), continues to suffer from shifting political winds and frequent funding shortfalls. The space agency typically cannot complete major projects during the four or eight years a president holds office, so those projects are subject to cancellation or redirection by an incoming administration.15

In May, NASA announced it would delay the first test flight of its deep-space Orion capsule, originally scheduled for November 2018, until 2019 at the earliest, because of budgetary pressures.

President Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 budget would cut funding for another major NASA program designed to move an asteroid into lunar orbit and use it to test technologies critical for a crewed mission to Mars.16

Support for U.S. space programs is flagging among the American public and members of Congress, and that concerns some lawmakers. Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, called for boosting budgets for space initiatives at a May 2016 hearing.

“America leads the world in space exploration, but that is a leadership role we cannot take for granted,” Smith said. “It has been over 40 years since astronaut Gene Cernan became the last man to walk on the moon. It is time to press forward. It is time to take longer strides.”17

American aerospace companies hope to take some of those strides. Companies such as SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin are playing an increasingly vital role in U.S. space programs, sparking debate about how the government should regulate them.

On June 3, SpaceX, a Hawthorne, Calif., company started by Tesla founder Elon Musk, launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the space station. The rocket's first stage then returned to the launch site for reuse. It was the 39th launch by SpaceX since 2006. In February, the company announced plans to send two space tourists on a trip around the moon in 2018.18

As a privately owned company, SpaceX does not have to report its profits, but documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal indicate the company expected to make a profit of $55 million in 2016 on revenues of $1.8 billion from launches. The documents also revealed that the company expects to earn between $15 billion and $20 billion by 2025 delivering internet services using its own satellites.19

The bar graph shows six companies participating in the space shuttle replacement program.  

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Since 2010, NASA has given six aerospace companies more than $300 million to help the space agency develop a replacement for the space shuttle.

Source: “Commercial Crew Program — The Essentials,” NASA, undated,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Company participating Amount awarded by NASA, in millions of dollars
Boeing $110.3
Sierra Nevada Corp. $100
SpaceX $75
Blue Origin $25.7
United Launch Alliance $6.7
Paragon Space Development Corp. $1.4
European Commission $45.6

Eight new space-related companies have opened their doors, on average, each year since 2010, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. And the commercial launch industry booked $2.6 billion in revenues in 2015, up from about $307 million in 2010 and nothing at all in 2011.20

“We are on the verge of surpassing NASA,” says Rick Tumlinson, co-founder and chairman of the board of Deep Space Industries, which develops technologies to mine asteroids. “I have predicted that the first human spacecraft to land on Mars is probably going to be a private-sector spacecraft, not NASA.”

Landing astronauts on the Red Planet, however, remains one of NASA's top goals. The agency is moving ahead with its Space Launch System designed to carry the Orion capsule into Martian orbit with a crew of up to six astronauts.

Some experts wonder whether manned deep-space missions even make sense, given the dangers of space travel, rapid advances in robotics and the fact that robots also are much less expensive to send into space than humans. Another debate focuses on the pros and cons of sending astronauts back to the moon, as Trump wants NASA to do by 2019. The space agency has said that deadline is unrealistic.21

As experts and policymakers consider the future of U.S. space programs, here are some of the questions they are asking:

Are U.S. satellites adequately protected?

U.S. military officials are taking steps — somewhat belatedly, some experts say — to protect their satellites.

“The … bureaucratic and procurement wheels have begun to move, albeit very slowly,” said Elbridge Colby, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.22

Satellites, including those intended for civilian use, are vulnerable not only to collisions with space debris but also to sabotage by anti-satellite weapons. All three major space powers — the United States, Russia and China — can disable or destroy satellites. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed by those three countries and about 100 others, prohibits participants from deploying weapons of mass destruction in space. However, it does not address devices that can disable or destroy satellites.23

The pie chart shows the percentage of active satellites, by function, as of December 31, 2015.  

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The global community had 1,381 operational satellites orbiting the planet as of Dec. 31, 2015, a 39 percent increase from 2011. The United States currently has about 576 satellites, more than twice as many as any other country. These satellites provide communications, guidance, navigation and other services.

Sources: Peter B. de Selding, “The state of the satellite industry in 5 charts,” SpaceNews, June 20, 2016,; Bill Canis, “Commercial Space Industry Launches a New Phase,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 12, 2016, p. 1,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Satellite function Percentage of total
Commercial communications 37%
Civil/military communications 14%
Earth observation services 14%
R&D< 12%
Military surveillance 8%
Navigation 7%
Scientific 5%
Meteorology 3%
Commercial communications 37%

The major space powers already have tested ASATs, including ballistic missiles capable of hitting satellites in low-Earth orbit (about 500 miles from the surface) and those as high as 22,000 miles from Earth, which are in geosynchronous orbit, meaning they remain in the same position relative to a location on Earth. Ground-based lasers also can blind orbiting cameras and damage fragile satellites.24

A satellite can also be destroyed by simply maneuvering another satellite into its path. “It's ugly,” says Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. “It's a kamikaze, and you lose a satellite in the process, but you can collide satellites.”

Any satellite equipped with a robotic arm, including those designed to make repairs, also can be used to “rip a solar panel off or pull other sensitive parts apart,” Cheng says.

Satellites are just one point of vulnerability for U.S. space programs.

“Space is not just about what is in orbit,” Cheng says. “You also have terrestrial facilities, mission control facilities, tracking facilities.” Even if the United States could turn its critical satellites into “armored death stars,” he says, an enemy could still target ground-based assets to disable control over satellites.

“Space is actually a giant integrated system,” Cheng says. “Integrated systems have advantages, but they are also extremely vulnerable.”

Colby said the Pentagon is working to make its satellites maneuverable enough to evade attacks and be more resistant to electronic jamming. In addition, it has deployed two satellites to monitor other countries’ activities in space.

He called these actions “encouraging,” but said it could be years before their benefits are apparent. He also said it is unlikely the United States will ever completely solve the problem of how to protect its satellites.25

U.S. satellites are a particularly tempting target, some experts say, because the military depends so heavily on them for intelligence gathering, communications, navigation and weapons guidance. “Foreign military leaders understand the unique advantages that space-based systems provide to the United States,” James R. Clapper, then-director of national intelligence, warned in February 2016.26

The line graph shows the number of man-made objects in Earth orbit, by type.  

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Tens of thousands of man-made objects orbit the Earth, including active and defunct satellites, pieces of spent rockets and fragments created by collisions. Experts warn that these fast-moving pieces of space junk could seriously damage working satellites and other spacecraft, including the International Space Station — and that as more debris accumulates, these risks will grow. From 1961 to 2017, the two lines illustrate total number of objects and fragmentation debris, respectively. As of 2009, there were almost 18,000 total objects and almost 11,000 pieces of fragmentation debris in orbit. Other types of debris are not shown.

Sources: “STO AVT-262 Lecture series and VKI workshop on Space debris reentry and mitigation,” NATO Science and Technology Organization,; “Space Surveillance,” U.S. Space Command, undated,

Peter W. Singer, a national security analyst at New America, a nonpartisan, public policy think tank in Washington, agrees. “It is woven into Chinese and Russian plans to try to take away U.S. space capabilities,” Singer says. “What is a strength for us they would like to turn into a weakness.”

He says the United States depends more on its space assets — including satellites, satellite tracking facilities, rockets, launch vehicles and space stations — than either China or Russia.

Cheng is not sure this country's adversaries will ever depend as much on space as the United States does.

“The only reason they would look like us is if they were going to do expeditionary warfare — warfare on the other side of the globe from where they are,” he says. “There is just no evidence that China intends to spend a lot of time operating in the Western Hemisphere or that Russia is going to do more than fly a few bombers to be obnoxious up and down the East or West Coast of the United States. We are not talking about far-flung global capabilities except for the United States.”

Many experts say the United States should deploy larger numbers of small satellites, seeking protection in redundancy. “We are still overly dependent on a few large, expensive platforms, which are easy targets for the Russians and the Chinese,” says Lewis of CSIS. “We would be much better off moving toward smaller satellites. There is general acceptance of that now, I think, in the space community, but we haven't yet started to do it.”

Brian G. Chow, a physicist and adjunct physical scientist at the RAND Corp. think tank in Santa Monica, Calif., says one way for the United States to protect its satellites is for the country to make clear it will destroy any other satellite that displays “stalking” behavior indicating a threat. Only that, he says, “can prevent a space Pearl Harbor.”

Should the private sector play a greater role in space exploration?

The United States has long encouraged private contractors to participate in space programs, developing products according to NASA specifications. Increasingly, however, the country is depending on aerospace companies to launch satellites and eventually use their own rockets to send humans into space.

During his presidential campaign, Trump said he wanted to let private companies operate the International Space Station, ferry astronauts to the space station within two years and handle other low-Earth orbit tasks.27

SpaceX, which has been carrying supplies to the space station since 2012, is not the only private spaceflight company launching satellites and delivering cargo. On April 22, Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Va., outside Washington, launched its seventh supply mission to the space station. Another company — Blue Origin in Kent, Wash., owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — said in April it will offer space tourism flights by the end of 2018.28

Some analysts and industry leaders say private-sector companies — rather than NASA — also should handle deep-space exploration.

“People in the industry are pretty confident that deep-space programs can be done more efficiently and for a lot less money,” says an industry spokesperson who spoke anonymously for fear of compromising his relationship with NASA. He described the agency's deep-space plans as “an incredibly large, expensive program that doesn't have a really clear vision.”

Historically, NASA has tightly controlled project designs and contractors’ work, which some experts say impedes innovation and cost efficiency. James Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a consultancy in Alexandria, Va., specializing in space entrepreneurship, says contractors are not motivated to save money.

Those who win a contract to deliver a product to the government “are not rewarded … the way the competitive marketplace works — [for] innovation, improvement of quality, reduction of price and delivering new capabilities that don't exist anywhere in the marketplace,” Muncy says.

NASA's relationship with private spaceflight companies is changing, largely because of the agency's Commercial Crew Program, a partnership between NASA and the private sector to build a replacement for the space shuttle to transport supplies and eventually crew to the International Space Station. Under the program, NASA's private-sector partners will develop the spacecraft and other equipment themselves, with full ownership of the final product.29

That is how NASA should handle all work done by private companies, says space historian and author Robert Zimmerman.

“The government should leave the design work and ownership of the product to the private sector,” Zimmerman wrote in a January report that generated heated debate in the space community. “The private companies know best how to build their own products to maximize performance while lowering cost, especially because it is in their own self-interest to do this well, as an unreliable rocket will not attract many customers.”30

Zimmerman cites NASA's Space Launch System as an example of the agency's inefficiencies. The system “is not tied to any results, their work is vague, it takes forever, and the costs balloon,” he says. “That has structurally been the problem with how things have been done at NASA and in the space program now for pretty much a half-century.”

Tumlinson of Deep Space Industries says NASA's role should involve supporting basic research and serving as a customer of services delivered by private companies.

Other experts are less impressed by the private sector's accomplishments in space.

“Elon Musk sat in my office in 2002 and told me he'd have 10 launches a year by 2006,” says Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “I'm still looking at my watch.”

Pace also says commercial firms usually are more efficient than government agencies because the private sector “doesn't have the same kind of [bureaucratic] shackles and responsibilities that governments have.” Those companies largely operate under strict NASA oversight, but some experts worry their performance will suffer when that oversight is gone or reduced.

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian think tank in Arlington, Va., that advocates for smaller government, said SpaceX, despite offering launches at lower cost than NASA, “isn't the model of market-driven responsiveness that Zimmerman would have you believe.”

“On average, its launches are over two years late, and the unlaunched missions it is carrying in its backlog on average are nearly three years late,” Thompson wrote. “You can see where that might be a problem for the Air Force if the payload being launched was a high priority such as a missile-warning or spy satellite.”31

Three of the 86 launches attempted by private companies in 2015 failed, destroying launch vehicles and payloads, according to a Congressional Research Service report.32 In September 2016, a SpaceX rocket exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

Pace says NASA clearly has a role to play in conducting scientific missions in space and in exploring beyond Earth orbit. The agency has landed a man on the moon, sent rovers to Mars and achieved other feats that private companies have yet to match. Pace also says that while such missions eventually may pay off commercially, they probably would not have attracted private-sector investment initially.

“Some people argue that NASA ought to be just a conduit of money and not try to do anything,” Pace says. “I believe that's incorrect. That's because there are activities that make no commercial sense.”

He wrote in April that the United States does not face a stark choice between government and private efforts in space but should pursue “a mixed strategy, using a variety of tools, to serve national interests. It would be wise to mistrust any purist strategy, that is, one which is all-government or all-private, where taxpayer dollars are needed.”33

Should the United States establish a moon base?

On June 20, British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking called for countries to collaborate on constructing a moon colony within 30 years and then to send a manned mission to Mars.

“We are running out of space [on Earth], and the only place we can go to are other worlds,” he said via video link to a conference in Trondheim, Norway. “It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”34

President Trump made similar comments when he signed legislation on March 21 giving NASA $19.5 billion for the current fiscal year, $200 million more than the agency received last year. “Almost half a century ago our brave astronauts first planted the American flag on the moon,” he said. “That was a big moment in our history. Now this nation is ready to be the first in space once again.”35

Former President Barack Obama wanted to send a manned mission to Mars, but Trump has prioritized returning astronauts to the moon and perhaps establishing a permanent base there.36

Blue Origin's Bezos supports the same plan. In March, he circulated a white paper to NASA leadership indicating his interest in developing a lunar lander and establishing a base on the moon. “It is time for America to return to the moon — this time to stay,” Bezos said. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”37

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of the Blue Origin aerospace firm (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Matthew Staver)  
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of the Blue Origin aerospace firm, unveils the company's reusable New Shepard launch system at the 33rd annual Space Symposium, in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 5. Blue Origin plans to offer space tourism flights by the end of 2018. Bezos circulated a white paper to NASA leaders in March indicating his interest in developing a lunar lander and establishing a base on the moon. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Matthew Staver)

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., has introduced legislation that would direct NASA to build a base on the lunar surface. He and other policymakers say the need is urgent because Russia and China have announced plans to do the same.38

Those countries “don't colonize places just for scientific study; they generally militarize their colonizations,” Posey, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, told a reporter in February. “So if we want to remain the leader in space, we obviously need to at least keep pace with the Russians and Chinese.”39

Some experts see the moon as a potential staging area for missions to Mars and other deep-space destinations.

“Perhaps one of the greatest practical discoveries of our generation is the presence of vast quantities of water on the moon, verified by NASA in 2009,” Robert Richards, CEO of Moon Express, a Mountain View, Calif., company that plans to mine lunar resources, told Congress in May. “The discovery of water on the moon is a game changer, not just for the economic viability of lunar resources, but for the economics of reaching Mars and other deep-space destinations.”40

William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of human exploration, said in 2015 that large amounts of ice at the lunar poles could provide the oxygen and hydrogen needed to fuel a spacecraft for a journey from the moon to Mars.

“If propellant was available from the moon, this could dramatically lower the [amount of fuel] needed from the Earth for a NASA Mars mission,” he said.41

Other experts warn that a moon mission could set back the Mars program.

“The moon could be a useful test bed for human exploration of Mars, part of a staged campaign of exploration,” says Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But there is a concern that lunar missions would divert resources away from the Mars programs.”

According to NASA scientists, establishing a moon base would cost $10 billion, a little more than half the agency's current annual budget.42

Tom Young, former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, says the United States lacks the wherewithal to build a base on the moon and also plan a manned mission to Mars. “There is a need to focus our attention, capability and resources on one option,” he said.43

The moon-or-Mars debate has also revived discussion about whether NASA should focus on human or robotic missions.

Cambridge University astrophysicist Martin Rees famously predicted in 2010 that manned missions to space would soon be a thing of the past.

“The moon landings were an important impetus to technology, but you have to ask the question, what is the case for sending people back into space?” he said. “The practical case gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturization. It's hard to see any particular reason or purpose in going back to the moon or indeed sending people into space at all.”44

Sending humans into space is also dangerous. Accidents involving the space shuttles Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) killed 14 astronauts, and three Apollo 1 astronauts were killed in 1967 during a preflight test when their capsule caught on fire.45

Former shuttle astronaut Rick Hauck noted that about 4 percent of humans who made it into space were killed during their missions. “Would I have flown if I had known there was a 4 percent chance of death?” Hauck said in 2003. “No, I don't think I would have flown.”46

NASA's robotic exploration program, meanwhile, has scored impressive successes, landing three rovers — Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity — on Mars. Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004. Each was expected to last about three months, but Spirit worked for six years and Opportunity is still active.47 The two-year mission for Curiosity, which landed in 2012, has been extended.48

Lewis called NASA's robotics work “the coolest space program in the world.” Still, he favors sending astronauts back to the moon “and creating some sort of semipermanent presence, just because I think it's easy.” Giving up on manned spaceflight would be “a hard blow” for NASA, he says.

Other experts argue that manned missions help boost public support for space exploration. “Human exploration gets people excited about space, and the private sector can increase how much exploration the government gets for its money,” says Tumlinson. “The more you can provide of that excitement, the more public support you're going to get, the more taxpayer dollars you're going to get.”

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First Space Race

Most historians mark Oct. 4, 1957 — the date the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, into Earth orbit — as the beginning of the first space race. The next day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's press secretary called the Russian launch “no surprise” and said the United States was “not in a race with the Soviets.”

“Both of the statements were naïve at best,” wrote space historian Ted Spitzmiller.49

The Soviets’ success in making it into space first stunned the American public, but the nation's policymakers also focused on Sputnik's weight, Spitzmiller wrote in The History of Human Spaceflight. At 184 pounds, the satellite offered “convincing evidence that the Russians did have the power, the guidance, and the ability to launch ICBMs,” or intercontinental ballistic missiles, he wrote. “This was seen as a threat to the very existence of the free world.”50

The Eisenhower administration and Congress moved quickly to expand U.S. space programs. In signing the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, Eisenhower commended Congress for acting quickly to approve the legislation, which he said equipped the United States “for leadership in the space age.”51

Besides creating NASA, the act specified that the Defense Department would manage U.S. military activities in space. Eisenhower initially wanted the Pentagon to direct all U.S. space efforts, according to John Logsdon, a historian at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum.

But his science adviser, James Killian, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon convinced him that it made more sense to create a separate civilian space agency “to carry out an open program of scientific activities and to engage in international cooperation,” wrote Logsdon. “This would provide a contrast to the closed and secretive Soviet space effort.”52

NASA did not have to start from scratch. It absorbed the earlier National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, with its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of $100 million and three major research laboratories — the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia, the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in California and the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Ohio.53

The new space agency immediately undertook its first manned space program — Project Mercury, with the goal of putting a U.S. astronaut into Earth orbit and returning him safely to Earth. But a month before Project Mercury's first launch in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. The next year, on Feb. 20, 1962, U.S. astronaut John Glenn circled the planet three times before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda.54

Eisenhower's proposed fiscal 1961 budget called for reducing NASA's budget. He warned John F. Kennedy's incoming administration that “further tests and experiments will be necessary to establish if there are any valid scientific reasons for extending manned spaceflight beyond the Mercury program.”55

But in 1961, while Project Mercury was still active, NASA started Project Gemini. The new program involved 10 launches of two-man crews performing the first spacewalks and other tasks, and testing technologies for the upcoming Apollo Program, which aimed to land astronauts on the moon.56

Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. walks on the moon (Getty Images/NASA)  
Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. walks on the moon on July 20, 1969. When the Trump administration said in June it would resurrect the National Space Council to oversee all U.S. activities and policies in space, Aldrin said the council would be “absolutely critical in ensuring that the president's space priorities are clearly articulated and effectively executed.” Trump has said he wants NASA to send astronauts back to the moon by 2019. (Getty Images/NASA)

According to Logsdon, Kennedy began his presidency with a “complex” attitude toward space. He initially viewed space exploration as a way to ease relations with the Soviet Union, but before the end of 1961 he would commit to sending U.S. astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade.57

Eight days after the Soviet Union sent Gagarin into orbit on April 12, 1961, Kennedy called on his administration to identify a “space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win.” On May 25, he told a joint session of Congress of his plan to send astronauts to the moon and backed up that commitment by increasing NASA's budget 89 percent.58

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the lunar surface. By the time the Apollo program ended in 1972, 12 astronauts — all Americans — had set foot on the moon. No humans have been there since.59

As the United States and Soviet Union expanded their investments in the space race, they also began developing anti-satellite weapons. As early as 1959, the United States attempted to hit one of its own aging satellites with a missile. The Soviets began developing anti-satellite capabilities as early as 1960 and in 1967 successfully used a satellite to intercept another in the same orbit. In the late 1950s and early '60s, the United States and the Soviet Union even tested nuclear bombs in space.60

In 1967, the two space superpowers signed the Outer Space Treaty, which bans weapons of mass destruction in space, limits use of the moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and prohibits countries from claiming sovereignty over space or celestial bodies.61

Détente in Space

The tremendous feeling of national triumph following the first moon landings was fleeting,” wrote Logsdon. He said Nixon, who began his first term as president six months before the 1969 moon landing, rejected NASA's ambitious post-Apollo plans. Those plans included a series of large space stations, continued missions to the moon and a mission to Mars in the 1980s.62

“We must think of [space activities] as part of a continuing process and not as a series of separate leaps, each requiring a massive concentration of energy,” Nixon said in announcing a new U.S. space policy on March 7, 1970. “Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities.”63

NASA's resources dropped sharply during the Nixon administration. The agency's budget, which peaked in 1966 at 4.4 percent of federal spending, had fallen to less than 1 percent by the time Nixon left office in 1974, when the agency received $3.3 billion.64

Public support for lunar missions declined after Apollo 14, the third mission to land astronauts on the moon, in part due to a sense that the United States had won the space race, according to Spitzmiller.65

NASA would send three more Apollo missions to the moon, the last one launching on Dec. 7, 1972.66 Earlier that year, despite cutting NASA's budget, Nixon had approved development of a reusable space vehicle — the space shuttle.

“The new system will differ radically from all existing booster systems, in that most of this new system will be recovered and used again and again — up to 100 times,” he said in announcing the project on Jan. 5. “The resulting economies may bring operating costs down as low as one-tenth of those present launch vehicles.”67

However, it took nine years before NASA sent the first shuttle into space. During that time, the agency also turned its attention to building the first space station, called Skylab. Working with constrained budgets, NASA engineers designed the station using the third stage of a Saturn heavy-lift rocket designed to reach the moon, adding adapters that allowed two Apollo spacecraft to dock at the station.68

Skylab's first crew arrived at the station on May 25, 1973. Over the next six years, it would be occupied for only 171 days, with the last crew logging the longest stay, 84 days.69 Skylab delivered valuable information about the long-term effects of space on the human body of living without gravity, according to Spitzmiller. “It was obvious that a flight to Mars was feasible except for the possible problem with bone loss, which continued to plague the crews,” he wrote.70

Space Shuttle Era

NASA's space shuttle program flew 135 missions — delivering and repairing satellites and performing scientific experiments — before ending in 2011 because of ongoing safety concerns.71 It sent the first American woman into space — Sally Ride — helped build the International Space Station and deployed the Hubble Telescope high above the atmosphere to study the universe beyond our solar system.72

“It was the first launch vehicle to lift off like a rocket, orbit the Earth as a spacecraft and then land as a glider,” space historian Robert Pearlman said of the shuttle.73

As the first reusable spacecraft, the shuttles were supposed to provide reliable access to space at a lower cost. However, significant cost reductions did not materialize, according to Steven Dick, a former NASA chief historian.74

As the first shuttle flights transfixed the nation during the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's administration worked to give private companies a greater role in space beyond that of traditional contractors.

“One of the important objectives of my administration has been, and will continue to be, the encouragement of the private sector in commercial space endeavors,” Reagan said in signing the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act. The law required the government to “encourage private-sector launches, reentries and associated services.”75 That same year, NASA created an Office of Commercial Programs to encourage private-sector involvement in space activities — such as making launch vehicles and satellites — and help commercialize NASA-developed technologies.76

However, progress in the shuttle program stalled after Jan. 28, 1986, when leaks in the rocket boosters attached to the space shuttle Challenger caused it to explode about one minute after launch, killing all seven astronauts, including New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe. The other shuttles remained grounded until September 1988.

“As a result, many questioned the role of NASA as the primary satellite delivery route to space,” the space agency said in a report.77

In addition to the Challenger disaster, Titan rocket launch failures in 1993 caused military satellite launches to be suspended for a year.78

“The period spanning the late 1980s to the early 1990s was a particularly difficult era for spaceflight in the United States,” according to a report by CSIS’ Aerospace Security Project. “The United States needed a new launch vehicle that could provide assured access to space … and stay cost competitive over time.”79

In 1988, Congress required companies involved in space launch activities to buy commercial insurance or demonstrate the ability to cover any third-party losses.80

Congress followed up in 1998 with the Commercial Space Act, which required NASA to encourage commercialization of space services.81

That same year, Russia launched the first module of the International Space Station into orbit. The $100 billion station took more than 10 years and 30 missions to build and was the joint project of five space agencies representing 15 countries, with the United States, Russia, the European Union, Canada and Japan having the greatest involvement.82 Those five agencies — NASA, Russia's Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — continue to operate the station today.83

By the early 1980s, the U.S. military was becoming increasingly dependent on its satellites for reconnaissance, communications and navigation, and more and more concerned about keeping them safe as the Soviet Union worked to improve its anti-satellite weapons.84

The United States conducted its first anti-satellite test in 1985, when an Air Force F-15 fighter flying at 38,000 feet launched a missile that destroyed a failing U.S. satellite.85

Another space shuttle tragedy occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven astronauts aboard. Investigators determined that a piece of insulating foam from the shuttle's external fuel tank had come loose during launch, striking the spacecraft's wing and damaging its heat shield.86

In January 2004, President George W. Bush called for returning astronauts to the moon by 2020 and sending a manned mission to Mars. The result was NASA's Constellation Program.87

New Competition

Two years after taking office in 2008, President Obama canceled the Constellation Program, calling it “over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.”88

His decision effectively eliminated any chance the United States would send astronauts to the moon during his administration. Instead, Obama called for NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and into orbit around Mars by the mid-2030s. But Congress had other ideas and funded NASA to proceed with a program essentially equivalent to the Constellation Program.89

Meanwhile, private-sector spaceflight companies were working to develop their own launch capabilities. SpaceX's first three launches failed, but its fourth, in 2008, was a success, as was a 2009 launch that sent the company's first commercial payload, a Malaysian satellite, into orbit.90

Zimmerman said SpaceX's fortunes improved from that point on. “SpaceX quickly signed up a large number of customers, even though the company was barely half a decade old,” he wrote. “By 2012 … the company possessed launch contracts with private satellite companies valued at more than $1 billion. SpaceX's biggest new customer, however, was not a private company; it was NASA.”91

Private companies’ role in space also got a boost from NASA's Commercial Crew Program, created to help the space agency build a replacement for the space shuttle.

Previously, NASA had provided private contractors with detailed specifications for the equipment it wanted them to build, and once it was built, NASA owned it. The plan under the Commercial Crew Program was for contractors to develop the spacecraft and other equipment themselves, with full ownership of the final product.92

Congress also acted to boost private-sector activities in space with the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015.

Although the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits countries from claiming sovereignty over space or celestial bodies, the act grants rights to resources extracted by companies from asteroids, the moon and other celestial bodies.93

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Current Situation

Regulatory Debate

The United States is the only country where private aerospace companies play a significant role in space, and that role is expanding rapidly. Perhaps not surprisingly, a vigorous debate is unfolding about how much the government should regulate these companies’ activities in space.

Article 6 of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires that participating countries provide “continuing supervision” of private space-related activities.94 Some experts say the U.S. government regulates those activities so weakly that it may be violating the treaty.

“The United States has clear rules controlling the export of sensitive space technologies on Earth, but lacks clear rules for private-sector operations in space,” wrote Pace, of the Space Policy Institute. “This has caused some countries, such as Russia, to question whether private U.S. space companies are being supervised properly as required by international law. The United States can and should create a supportive regulatory regime for commercial space activities, but at present there is no clear, central authority for doing so.”95

Matthew P. Schaefer, co-director of the Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law Program at the University of Nebraska, warned a Senate subcommittee in May that unless the United States takes “minimal steps” to comply with Article 6, U.S. aerospace companies “may face foreign retaliation in the form of denying access to customers or partners, and investors from abroad may shy away as well.”96

A resupply ship operated by Orbital ATK (NASA/Mark Garcia)  
A resupply ship operated by Orbital ATK, an aerospace firm in Virginia, prepares to dock with the International Space Station on April 22. Some analysts and industry leaders say the nation's growing number of private-sector companies — rather than NASA — should handle deep-space exploration. (NASA/Mark Garcia)

In addition, he said, the United States could not then insist that foreign governments “not harmfully interfere with U.S. commercial activities” in space.97

Other experts, however, say the treaty leaves it up to each country to define “continuing supervision.”

“How a country chooses to assure that its citizens do not violate these provisions is completely up to that country,” James E. Dunstan, a senior adjunct fellow at TechFreedom, a technology policy think tank in Washington, and Berin Szoka, TechFreedom's president, told the same Senate panel where Schaefer testified.98

While the Outer Space Treaty does not specify the type or degree of oversight countries should exercise over private-sector activities, industry leaders say uncertainty about the regulatory environment is bad for business. “Internal and external investors, as well as insurers, need to know what, if any, regulatory risks a particular project will face before financing an initiative,” Michael Gold, vice president of Space Systems Loral, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that designs and builds satellite and spacecraft systems, said at the hearing.99

U.S. regulatory responsibilities are clearly defined. The Federal Aviation Administration oversees launches and re-entries of spacecraft, the Commerce Department licenses commercial satellites, and the Commerce, State and Defense departments oversee export controls and licensing of strategic technologies.100

Some industry advocates call that arrangement complex and unpredictable. “The problem … is not a ‘regulatory gap’ for current space activities, but rather a patchwork regulatory system that is complex, nontransparent and extremely expensive to navigate,” Dunstan and Szoka told Congress. “Before we start overlaying a whole new ‘Mission Authorization’ regulatory regime on innovative space activities, we must first streamline the existing regime to reduce cost, redundancy and most of all, opaqueness, where bureaucrats can still pick winners and losers with impunity.”101

Several free-market advocates want “permissionless approval” for commercial space activities.

“I urge the Congress to consider blanket authorization for all nongovernmental operations in space that do not cause tangible harm to other parties, whether foreign or domestic, in their peaceful exploration and use of outer space,” Eli Dourado, director of the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University, said at a House committee hearing in March. “Such an approach would meet our treaty obligations while maximizing the scope for innovation and experimentation in space.”102

But aerospace firms are not equipped to know whether their space activities might cause harm, other experts say.

“Few if any individual operators have the ability to either assess the risk their activities may pose to other space flight missions, especially U.S. or other government missions, nor the resources or ability to ameliorate the damages their actions might have on those missions,” Douglas L. Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for space policy, said at the House hearing. “And to ask them to try to develop those capabilities would be a greater constraint to their entrepreneurial activities than some well-designed government-sponsored measures.”103

Some policymakers have called for amending the Outer Space Treaty to clarify regulatory responsibilities in space and better support the activities of private companies. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in April that 1967 was “a different time and era” and called on Congress to evaluate how a treaty enacted 50 years ago “will impact new and innovative activity within space.”104

Most experts, however, see little chance the treaty will be modified or replaced. Even if U.S. policymakers agreed to amend the treaty, other space powers would be suspicious of their motives, said CSIS’ Lewis. “People always think that it is the United States in some way trying to create opportunity for itself,” he says.

Muncy of PoliSpace says the pact does not need to be changed. Instead, he says, the State Department needs to ensure the treaty's provisions are implemented in ways that benefit the United States.

National Space Council

The Trump administration's announcement in June that it will resurrect the National Space Council — with Vice President Mike Pence in charge — to oversee all U.S. activities and policies in space has also stirred controversy. The original council, established in 1958, was disbanded in 1973, revived in 1989 and disbanded again in 1993.105

Muncy of PoliSpace says the new council will give President Trump the information he needs to tell individual agencies overseeing space-related activities “whether or not they are actually holding up their end of the bargain to serve the national interest beyond their institutional interest.”

When the idea of reviving the council was floated in December, Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. told a reporter it would be “absolutely critical in ensuring that the president's space priorities are clearly articulated and effectively executed.”106

James Reuter, deputy associate administrator at NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in May that a new National Space Council might improve communication between the White House and Congress. “There's a lot of congressional guidance on the programs [that members of Congress] fund, and they don't always align with the administration's viewpoints,” he said. “Perhaps a space council could help us.”107

Air and Space Museum historian Logsdon said earlier versions of the council failed to prove “its superiority as an organizational approach to developing a space strategy or coordinating the space activities of executive agencies.” After it was revived in 1989, he wrote, the council “managed to alienate most executive agencies.”108

Aaron Oesterle, project manager at the Space Frontier Foundation, which supports rapid action to colonize other planets, also is skeptical. “Taking all of the various space stuff and putting it under a single regulatory authority is not viable in the long term, and in the short term it is so disruptive,” he says.

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New Challenges

Policymakers and analysts fear that failing to fund U.S. space programs at sufficient levels could have serious implications for U.S. national security. U.S. satellites must be better protected soon or the country could lose strategic advantages in communication, guidance, intelligence gathering and other areas important to the military, they say.

“The era of unchallenged U.S. dominance of space is over,” said Colby at the Center for a New American Security. The United States, he said, must “induce, convince, coerce, deter, dissuade, coax, incentivize or otherwise persuade” other countries not to exploit the vulnerabilities of U.S. satellites or the country's other space assets.109

Military officials are working to make U.S. satellites more maneuverable and resistant to jamming, but it is unclear whether Trump administration members understand why such steps are necessary, says Singer, of the New America think tank.

He also says competing interests in space among countries such as the United States, China and Russia make war on Earth more likely. “For most of the 20th century, the idea of great state powers going to war against each other was thinkable,” he says. “It is thinkable once more.”

Some policymakers say the United States must do more to assert its leadership over activities in Earth's orbit. Otherwise, they say, U.S. officials will treat China's progress in space as a potential military threat and will not want aerospace companies involved in space after all.

“China already has demonstrated a strong disregard for interests of other countries in outer space through its anti-satellite tests,” Rep. Smith said at a hearing before his House committee in September. “Here on Earth, illegal incursions into the South China Sea represent a blatant disregard for the international rule of law. Will their disregard of international law continue to extend into outer space?”110

Some experts warn of potential trouble in space from rogue organizations or even individuals.

“Given the revolution in [private space flight], it's possible to imagine other nonstate actors having a go at space as well,” wrote Baiocchi and Welser. “Nongovernmental organizations may start pursuing missions that undermine governments’ objectives. An activist billionaire wanting to promote transparency could deploy a constellation of satellites to monitor and then tweet the movements of troops worldwide. Criminal syndicates could use satellites to monitor the patterns of law enforcement in order [to] elude capture, or a junta could use them to track rivals after a coup.”111

Pace of the Space Policy Institute recommends that the United States work not only with private companies but with other countries as well in planning and conducting space programs.

“In the Cold War, space leadership was about, ‘Look what I can do by myself that nobody else can do? I can land on the moon and nobody else can,’” Pace says. “Today, when there are many more state and nonstate actors in space — a lot more players — leadership is about, ‘What can I get others to do with me?’”

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Should the private sector take over the management and design of U.S. space exploration from NASA?


Rick Tumlinson
Chairman, Deep Space Industries, and Founder, New Worlds Institute. Written for CQ Researcher, August 2017

Exploring and opening space should no longer be something exclusive to the government — that it does for the people — rather it should answer the needs of government, and support those who want to go there themselves, to explore and create new homes.

To put the issue in context, let us separate science from exploration, settlement and development. In the first, the customer is the scientist. In the others, the customer is the people. A scientist wants data and information. If the private sector can provide the data cheaper, better and faster, it should get the job — and in most cases it can.

In exploration, the payoff can be science, strategic power, prestige or information that supports the nation or its people's ability to utilize or live in the places explored. Explorers on Earth have always been funded through a mix of sources. In the past, many were employed by government, as were Lewis and Clark. Today, some explorers are government employees, but many operate on grants from the government or private sources.

Settlement and development in space must be initiated by citizens but should be supported by the government. By being so, every other aspect of national interest is satisfied. To the extent that NASA funds can be allocated in ways that enhance human development and settlement of areas of space where people want to go, the agency should be allowed and encouraged to play a role. Yet it need not lead, and it definitely should not plan or control the pace of these activities.

In areas where the interest is purely scientific or at a stage where scientific return is the primary driver, NASA and other science-oriented elements of the government, working with academia, should continue to lead the way. However, funds spent on science and exploration should leverage citizen activities, especially activities that lead enable government-funded scientists and explorers to do more, and more cheaply.

The private sector is will quickly become more efficient than government agencies in gathering data and building infrastructure in space as it already is here on Earth. The government can lease or purchase from businesses, stimulating the economy and lowering taxpayer costs.

NASA should carefully pick science and exploration missions that are not best accomplished by and for the private sector itself, and when possible invest taxpayer funds back into the people, support institutional exploration and help solve the technical challenges we all face as we begin to settle the frontier.


Scott Pace
Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University. Written for CQ Researcher, June 2017

This is a simple question that obscures a deeper public policy question about how governments and markets create public goods, such as scientific knowledge, in the course of space exploration. To answer the question simply: no. Rather, the question should be how to use government to provide appropriate structures and incentives for the private sector, so as to obtain the greatest national good from space explorations.

Governments are responsible for providing public goods — among them national security, basic scientific research and exploration — for which no commercial market exists or is likely to exist.

There are fundamental differences between a publicly funded and directed enterprise chartered to define, explore and exploit a new frontier, and enterprises founded and directed for the purpose of creating wealth and providing shareholder returns. Private philanthropy can and does support science and exploration, but these are, in general, noncommercial, nonmarket activities even if they use private goods, services and capital.

In using the private sector in missions of exploration, the question is, who reports to whom? Is the goal the creation of public goods or the private success of companies? If a private actor who is providing a public good or service fails, changes priorities or slips schedule, the loss cannot always be made whole merely by paying monetary damages. Money is not a substitute for public-good failures in the way it is for commercial failures. Not everything which matters to our society will necessarily look good on a corporate balance sheet.

NASA is responsible for determining when and how it explores space using public funds. It cannot and should not be merely a passive buyer of just those exploration-related goods and services that contractors find it profitable to sell at a particular time. This means that NASA must be a “smart customer” — a role that would be undermined if it outsourced its design and management capabilities to a private contractor.

We do not really know what the human future in space will be. That is a question that exploration is intended to answer. In exploring space, we necessarily employ imperfect options, markets and governments in our portfolio of tools. The most effective exploration strategy will be a mixed one of government initiative and private innovation, not one entirely driven by NASA or left to the uncertainty of dynamic markets. There is room and need for both.

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1957–1969United States, Soviet Union compete for space firsts.
1957Soviet Union launches unmanned Sputnik satellite into orbit, fueling urgency of U.S. space program development.
1958National Aeronautics and Space Act creates NASA and directs the Pentagon to manage military space activities.
1961President John F. Kennedy announces plan to send astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade and increases NASA's budget request by 89 percent.
1962U.S. launches its first astronaut, Marine Lt. Col. John Glenn, into orbit.
1967U.N. Outer Space Treaty bans weapons of mass destruction in space and limits use of the moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes.
1969U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.
1970–1980U.S. pares space budgets.
1970President Richard M. Nixon sharply reduces NASA's budget.
1972Nixon announces development of a new reusable space vehicle, the space shuttle, to deliver astronauts and satellites into orbit for less money.
1972U.S. launches the Apollo program's final human mission to the moon.
1973First crewmembers arrive at SkyLab, America's first space station.
1981–2010The space shuttle era brings successes, tragedies.
1981U.S. launches Columbia, the first space shuttle, into orbit.
1984The Commercial Space Launch Act aims to increase the private sector's role in space programs.
1986Space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers.
1988Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act requires companies to buy commercial insurance for launches.
1998Congress requires NASA to take steps to commercialize space activities…. First pieces of International Space Station are launched into orbit.
2003Space shuttle Columbia disintegrates during re-entry, killing all seven crew members.
2004President George W. Bush unveils Constellation Program — to take humans back to the moon and to Mars.
2007China destroys one of its own weather satellites to test an antisatellite weapon.
2008-PresentPrivate sector's role in space grows.
2008On its fourth try, SpaceX launches a rocket into orbit. The company's first successful launch of a commercial payload follows in July 2009.
2010President Barack Obama cancels the Constellation Program and directs NASA to plan for sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2015 and into Mars orbit by the mid-2030s…. NASA awards almost $50 million to five U.S. companies working with the agency to develop a replacement for the space shuttle as part of the Commercial Crew Program.
2015Aerospace companies book $2.6 billion in revenues, launching 83 payloads into orbit.
2016NASA's Juno probe reaches Jupiter…. SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket lands upright on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
2017President Trump proposes reducing NASA's budget 3 percent, with the largest cuts coming from programs that study the Earth's surface and climate.

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Short Features

“China arguably has become a space superpower.”

When the Chinese blew up one of their own weather satellites a decade ago to test an anti-satellite missile, sending thousands of pieces of debris potentially into the path of other countries’ spacecraft, U.S. scientists and officials reacted with shock and alarm.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell accused the Chinese of escalating the “weaponization of space,” and a White House official derided them for violating a “spirit of cooperation” between the United States and China in the use of space.1

Since then, China has made rapid advances in its space program. Western observers say Beijing's top goal in space is national security, followed by international prestige, projection of power and competition for space-related business.

“Chinese military writings emphasize the importance of establishing space dominance … as the key to winning future local wars,” says Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. He says the People's Liberation Army “pretty much” runs China's space program.

Adds Peter Singer, a national security analyst at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, “China arguably has become a space superpower.”

China did not send its first astronaut into space until 2003. Five years later, a Chinese astronaut took the country's first spacewalk, and in 2011 China launched a small space station. The country has conducted multiple unmanned lunar exploration missions and, according to one report, has studied the feasibility of sending a manned mission to the moon.2

In November 2016, representatives of China and the European Space Agency discussed collaborating on establishing a human outpost on the moon.3 And last year for the first time, China surpassed Russia in successful space launches and matched the 22 by NASA and U.S. aerospace companies.4

China spent about $6.1 billion on all space-related programs in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available. The United States spent about $39.3 billion (including about $18 billion at NASA), and Russia spent about $5.3 billion. 5

However, figures for China's spending on space are misleading, said James A. Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.

“Chinese budget figures are opaque, disguise some sources of funding, and do not reflect differences in purchasing power,” Lewis told a congressional hearing last September.6

Some Chinese officials reportedly are pushing the government to triple spending on the country's space programs.7

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space, said the United States isn't taking China seriously enough as a potential threat in space.

“The strategic choices we make clearly impact China's space capabilities — something that we should all pay attention to given that China's civil space activities are inseparable from their military,” he said at the same congressional hearing where Lewis testified.8

China's expanding space program also may mean increasing competition for U.S. aerospace companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. “They're looking for business around the world,” Singer says of the Chinese. “There is going to be competition even in the private space realm.”

China has built and launched satellites for Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan and Bolivia, signed contracts for satellites with Belarus, Laos and Sri Lanka and agreed to build and launch a satellite for Venezuela, according to a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report. The report says Chinese satellites are cheaper than those sold by other countries, and “China offers a competitive package that includes launch services, training for local operators and low-cost loans through its export-import bank.”9

Lewis says the United States, which has relied on Russia for access to the International Space Station since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, is falling behind in what some experts say is a “new space race.”

“We are sitting on our laurels,” he says. “We are the rabbit and China is the tortoise.”

— Patrick Marshall

[1] Marc Kaufman and Dafna Linzer, “China Criticized for Anti-Satellite Missile Test,” The Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2007,; William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “China Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon, Unnerving U.S.,” The New York Times, Jan. 18, 2007,

[2] Kevin Pollpeter, Eric Anderson, Jordan Wilson, Fan Yang, “China Dream, Space Dream: China's Progress in Space Technologies and Implications for the United States,” report prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, March 2, 2015,

[3] Matthew Brown, “China talking with European Space Agency about moon outpost,”, April 26, 2016,

[4] Clay Dillow, “China's secret plan to crush SpaceX and the US space program,”, March 28, 2017,

[5] Joe Myers, “The rise and rise of China's space programme — in numbers,” World Economic Forum, Oct. 24, 2016,

[6] Testimony of James Lewis before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space, Sept. 27, 2016,

[7] Dillow, op. cit

[8] Statement of Rep. Brian Babin before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space, Sept. 27, 2016,

[9] Ibid

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Experts say global cooperation is needed to avoid spacecraft damage.

An estimated 150 million pieces of space debris whiz constantly around the Earth. Moving at about 5 miles per second, this “space junk” — ranging from tiny flecks of paint to bulky stages of discarded launch vehicles — poses a growing threat to satellites.10

“In orbit, these objects … [are] faster than a bullet and can damage or destroy functioning space infrastructure, like economically vital telecom, weather, navigation, broadcast and climate-monitoring satellites,” Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) debris office, told a conference on space debris in April.11

About 5,000 pieces of space debris are more than three feet long, according to one expert. And about 20,000 measure more than four inches.12

An illustration of Earth created by the National Aeronautics (Getty Images/NASA)  
An illustration of Earth created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1989 graphically shows space debris in low-Earth orbit. (Getty Images/NASA)

So far, the debris has caused only minor damage, including a 16-inch gash that a piece of orbiting junk punched in the solar panel of an ESA satellite last August.13

But scientists say more-serious strikes are inevitable. As early as 1978, NASA astrophysicists warned that as space debris accumulates, more collisions will occur, spawning still more collisions in a cascading effect that will be impossible to halt.14

Two agencies — NASA and the Defense Department's Space Command — track satellites and space debris using ground-based radar and telescopes on land and in space.

But that equipment only tracks objects at least four inches long, and scientists say fragments as small as 0.04 of an inch can cause significant damage.15

The problem became more severe after Jan. 11, 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon by firing an unarmed missile at one of its own defunct weather satellites orbiting at an altitude of 534 miles. The collision created more than 3,000 pieces of debris that still threaten other objects in orbit. One analyst called the test “the most prolific and severe fragmentation in the course of five decades of space operations.”16

By 1987, U.S. and European space agencies had begun work on what would eventually become the Interagency Space Debris Coordination Committee. The committee is made up of government officials from 13 countries, including the United States, Russia and China. The countries are responsible not only for their own governments’ satellites but also for satellites owned by private companies within their borders.

The committee issued space debris mitigation guidelines in 2007, but member countries are not implementing them, according to Krag and other experts. Krag says only 60 percent of satellites are disposed of as the committee recommends.17

The committee's guidelines say satellites nearing the end of their useful life should be parked out of orbit or burned up in Earth's atmosphere to keep them from colliding with other satellites and creating debris, says Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington focused on security issues. But he says satellite operators prefer to keep dying satellites in service until they use up every last bit of their expensive fuel.

“If you put a satellite up and that satellite is a revenue generator, you want to extract the most money from that investment,” Krepon says. He warns that unless countries agree to enforce the guidelines, “we will lose space like we're losing fisheries in the ocean.”

Rolf Densing, the ESA's director of operations, told a recent conference, “This problem can only be solved globally.”18

Some economists suggest imposing a user fee on space launches to pay for debris mitigation.19 A British company has proposed a system — called Necropolis — that would collect defunct satellites and move them into an orbit that active satellites don't use. And researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have proposed pushing pieces of space junk into higher orbit by firing beams of electrons at them.20

The ESA plans a RemoveDEBRIS mission this year to test a net that could be used to drag pieces of space junk into the atmosphere to burn up. It also will test a “dragsail” — like the sail on a boat but pushed by photons of light from the sun instead of wind — to accomplish the same objective.21

James A. Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, says dealing with space debris is the most obvious starting point for international cooperation in space. He calls it one of the few issues where “we can possibly get some utility out of a new agreement.”

— Patrick Marshall

[10] “Frequently Asked Questions: Orbital Debris,” NASA, undated, Richard Ingham, “Space debris problem getting worse, say scientists,”, April 18, 2017,

[11] Sarah Knapton, “750,000 pieces of debris orbiting Earth threaten future of spaceflight, warn experts,” The Telegraph, April 21, 2017,

[12] Ingham, op. cit.

[13] Tereza Pultarova, “Experts Call for Legislation and Improved Tracking to Deal with Orbital Debris,” Space News, April 25, 2017,

[14] Brad Plumer, “Space trash is a big problem. These economists have a solution,” The Washington Post, Oct. 24, 2013,

[15] Pultarova, op. cit.

[16] Brian Weeden, “2007 Chinese Anti-Satellite Test Fact Sheet,” Secure World Foundation, updated Nov. 23, 2010,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ingham, op. cit.

[19] Plumer, op. cit.

[20] Pultarova, op. cit.

[21] Tereza Pultarova, “Meet the Space Custodians: Debris Cleanup Plans Emerge,”, April 26, 2017,

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Spitzmiller, Ted , The History of Human Spaceflight , University Press of Florida, 2017. An aviation historian and pilot delivers a colorful history of human space flight, beginning in 1783 with balloonists and ending with the debate over returning humans to the moon and colonizing other planets.

MacDonald, Alexander , The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War , Yale University Press, 2017. An economist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says philanthropists and private companies historically have provided crucial financing for space programs.

Sivolella, Davide , The Space Shuttle Program: Technologies and Accomplishments , Springer Praxis Books, 2017. An aerospace engineer offers a detailed history of the space shuttle program.


Baiocchi, Dave, and William Welser IV , “The Democratization of Space: New Actors Need New Rules,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2015, Two engineers with the RAND Corp. think tank argue that governments need to develop a new legal framework to accommodate the growing role of private companies in space.

Chow, Brian G. , “Stalkers in Space: Defeating the Threat,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Summer 2017, An adjunct physical scientist at the RAND Corp. says the best way to defend U.S. satellite systems against anti-satellite weapons is to announce a policy of pre-emptive strikes against potential adversaries who behave suspiciously.

Pace, Scott , “Regulating Outer Space: Making Space Commerce a Priority,” Foreign Affairs, May 12, 2016, The director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University says the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 does not adequately cover the activities of private aerospace companies and that the United States needs to take the lead in setting international norms for using space.

Thompson, Loren , “Capitalism In Space: The Beguiling Myth Market Forces Can Fix Everything,” Forbes, March 16, 2017, A public-policy analyst challenges the argument that the private sector is better suited than NASA to manage space programs, saying private efforts have regularly run behind schedule, and concern for profits may cause companies to skimp on safety.

Reports and Studies

“National Security Space Defense and Protection: Public Report,” Committee on National Security Space Defense and Protection; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, National Academies Press, 2016. A panel of military, academic and private-sector experts assesses the risks to U.S. national security presented by other countries’ space capabilities as well as potential measures for countering those risks.

Canis, Bill , “Commercial Space Industry Launches a New Phase,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 12, 2016, An analyst for the research arm of Congress describes the growing role of private companies in space, their relationship with NASA and federal regulation of private-sector activities in space.

Colby, Elbridge , “From Sanctuary to Battlefield: A Framework for a U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space,” Center for a New American Security, January 2017, A senior fellow at a national security think tank assesses the vulnerability of U.S. satellite systems and other space-related technology, details the limited steps taken to mitigate those vulnerabilities and explores potential ways to deter attacks by other countries.

Harrison, Todd, Andrew Hunter, Kaitlyn Johnson, Evan Linck and Thomas Roberts , “Beyond the RD-180,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 2017, Analysts at a centrist think tank explore how the U.S. government came to depend on Russian rockets for trips to the International Space Station and options for ending that dependence.

Pollpeter, Kevin, Eric Anderson, Jordan Wilson and Fan Yang , “China Dream, Space Dream: China's Progress in Space Technologies and Implications for the United States,” prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, March 2, 2015, Scholars from the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation say China's space program poses challenges for the United States but also may present opportunities for scientific collaboration.

Zimmerman, Robert , “Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry,” Center for a New American Security, January 2017, In a report that prompted heated debate among space analysts, a space historian argues that private-sector companies are more efficient than NASA at designing and managing space programs.

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The Next Step

Deep Space Travel

Baggaley, Kate , “‘Cryosleep’ May Open the Door to Deep Space. Here's How,” NBC News, June 12, 2017, Scientists are working to develop technology that would put astronauts into a hibernation-like state called “torpor” for long space trips.

Berger, Eric , “Finally, some details about how NASA actually plans to get to Mars,” Ars Technica, March 28, 2017, William Gerstenmaier, NASA's head of human exploration, said the agency will build a “gateway” orbiting the moon as one of its first steps in preparing for a manned mission to Mars in 2033.

Hobson, Katherine , “What Going to Mars Will Do To Our Minds,” FiveThirtyEight, March 6, 2017, Astronauts traveling to Mars will experience boredom, isolation and other psychological stressors at levels never before experienced in space travel.

Foreign Space Activity

Grush, Loren , “China's most powerful rocket failed yesterday. What does that mean for the country's space plans?” The Verge, July 3, 2017, China's second launch of one of the world's most powerful rockets, the Long March 5, failed on July 2.

Kramer, Mirian , “Here's why you should pay close attention to India's space program,” Mashable, June 9, 2017, India tested its biggest rocket in June and simultaneously launched 104 satellites in February.

Scoles, Sarah , “Russia's Quest to Build a Space Empire — Or Go Broke Trying,” Wired, April 9, 2017, Officials with Russia's struggling state-run space program, Roscosmos, sound altruistic when they talk of working with emerging space programs in other countries, but their primary goal is to make money.

Private Sector

Brinkmann, Paul , “Video shows Blue Origin plans Eutelsat launch from Florida,” Orlando Sentinel, March 7, 2017, Spaceflight company Blue Origin, run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reached a deal with European satellite company Eutelsat to send a satellite into orbit.

Burton, Charlie , “After the crash: Inside Richard Branson's $600m space mission,” GQ, July 5, 2017, Virgin Galactic will conduct rocket-powered test flights on its reusable spaceplane, VSS Unity, this fall, three years after the plane's predecessor exploded and killed one pilot.

Chang, Kenneth , “Moon Express Set Its Sight on Deliveries to the Moon and Beyond,” The New York Times, July 12, 2017, Moon Express, a startup in Florida, says it is on track to put its MX-1E lander on the moon by the end of the year.

U.S. Space Policy

Gaffey, Conor , “NASA Can't Afford to Put Humans on Mars,” Newsweek, July 14, 2017, NASA's head of human exploration, William Gerstenmaier, said the space agency's current budget is not large enough to pay for a manned mission to Mars.

Kaplan, Sarah , “President Trump relaunches the National Space Council,” The Washington Post, June 30, 2017, Promising to restore the United States’ global leadership in space, President Trump re-established the National Space Council to oversee the country's activities beyond Earth.

Kheel, Rebecca , “Top general opposes Space Corps plan,” The Hill, July 18, 2017, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee he opposes a plan to create a branch of the military that would address the threats that Russia and China pose to U.S. satellites.

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Center for a New American Security
1152 15th St., N.W., Suite 950, Washington, DC 20005
Nonpartisan think tank that analyzes and proposes national security and defense policies.

Center for Strategic and International Studies
1800 K St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006
Centrist think tank that has analyzed space-related national security concerns for the United States, including the risks involved in depending on Russia for launches to the International Space Station.

The Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002
Conservative public policy think tank that reports on space-related security issues and other topics.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E St., S.W., Suite 5R30, Washington, DC 20546
The primary federal agency responsible for civilian space programs.

New America
740 15th St., N.W., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
Centrist think tank focused primarily on technology and public policy.

Space Frontier Foundation
4539 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA 22304;
Nonprofit group that advocates for settling other planets.

Space Policy Institute
Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, 1957 E St., N.W., Suite 403, Washington, DC 20052
Conducts research and organizes conferences on domestic and international space policy.

Stimson Center
1211 Connecticut Ave., N.W., 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
Think tank focused on issues that include space-related global security and prosperity.

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[1] Ben Evans, “Soyuz TMA-12M Crew Ready for Six-Hour Fast Ride to Space Station,” America Space, undated,; The Soyuz Experience in Photos,” Canadian Space Agency, undated,; “NASA Astronaut Randy Bresnik Available for Interviews Before Space Station Mission,” media advisory, NASA, July 17, 2017,

[2] Sean O'Kane, “NASA buys two more seats to the International Space Station on Russia's Soyuz rocket,” The Verge, Feb. 28, 2017,

[3] Doug Lamborn, “Time to get serious about space threats,” The Hill, May 14, 2015,

[4] Dave Baiocchi and William Welser IV, “The Democratization of Space New Actors Need New Rules,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2015, p. 98,

[5] Bill Canis, “Commercial Space Industry Launches a New Phase,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 12, 2016, p. 1,

[6] Elbridge Colby, “From Sanctuary to Battlefield: A Framework for a U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space,” Center for a New American Security, January 2017,

[7] Testimony of Lt. Gen. John W. Raymond before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, March 25, 2015,

[8] “U.S. Should Stop Relying on Russian Rockets,” editorial board, Observer, May 17, 2016,; O'Kane, op. cit.

[9] Anthony Cave, “John McCain on target about American reliance on Russian rocket engines,” PolitiFact Arizona, Jan. 29, 2016,

[10] Testimony of James A. Lewis before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space, “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?” Sept. 27, 2016,

[11] “China's Secretive Space Program Threatens NASA's dominance,” Bloomberg News, Nov. 28, 2016,

[12] Steven Jiang, “China: We will be on Mars by the end of 2020,” CNN, Jan. 5, 2017,

[13] Leonard David, “China's Anti-Satellite Test: Worrisome Debris Cloud Circles Earth,”, Feb. 2, 2007,; “China's President Urges Militarization of Space,” Fox News, April 15, 2014,

[14] “National Security Space Defense and Protection,” National Academies Press, 2016,; “UCS Satellite Database,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 11, 2017,

[15] John Logsdon, “Ten Presidents and NASA,” 50th Magazine, NASA, undated,

[16] Kerry Sheridan, “NASA delays deep-space Orion test to 2019 due to costs,”, May 12, 2017,; Loren Grush, “Trump's NASA budget cancels Europa lander and Asteroid Redirect Mission,” The Verge, March 16, 2017,

[17] Statement of Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, “Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats,” House Science, Space and Technology Committee, May 18, 2016,

[18] “SpaceX blasts off cargo using recycled spaceship,”, June 3, 2017,; “Completed Missions,” SpaceX,; “SpaceX To Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond The Moon Next Year,” SpaceX News, Feb. 27, 2017,

[19] Rolfe Winkler and Andy Pasztor, “Exclusive Peek at SpaceX Data Shows Loss in 2015, Heavy Expectations for Nascent Internet Service,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 13, 2017,

[20] Canis, op. cit., pp. 4, 10; “The Commercial Space Industry and Launch Market,” everyCRS, April 20, 2012,

[21] Robin McKie, “Astronauts lift our spirits. But can we afford to send humans into space?” The Guardian, Dec. 6, 2014,; Andrew Follett, “NASA Vetoes Trump's Plan To Return Astronauts To Moon In 2019,” The Daily Caller, May 14, 2017,

[22] Colby, op. cit., p. 10.

[23] “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” U.S. Department of State, undated,

[24] Jonathan Broder, “Why the Next Pearl Harbor Could Happen in Space,” Newsweek, May 4, 2016,

[25] Ibid.

[26] James R. Clapper, “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 9, 2016,

[27] Calla Cofield, “What President Trump Means for NASA,”, Nov. 10, 2016,

[28] “NASA Space Station Cargo Launches aboard Orbital ATK Resupply Mission,” news release, NASA, April 18, 2017,; Jeff Foust, “Blue Origin still planning commercial suborbital flights in 2018,” Space News, April 5, 2017,

[29] “Commercial Crew Program — The Essentials,” NASA, undated,

[30] Robert Zimmerman, “Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry,” Center for a New American Security, January 2017, p. 27,

[31] Loren Thompson, “Capitalism In Space: The Beguiling Myth Market Forces Can Fix Everything,” Forbes, March 16, 2017,

[32] Canis, op. cit., p. 8.

[33] Scott Pace, “Wishful thinking collides with policy, economic realities in ‘Capitalism in Space,’” Space News, April 4, 2017,

[34] Ben Guarino, “Stephen Hawking calls for a return to the moon as Earth's clock runs out,” The Washington Post, June 21, 2017,

[35] Darlene Superville, “Trump Wants to Send Humans to Mars,” The Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, March 21, 2017,; S.A. Miller, “Trump renews NASA mission for human space travel, deep space exploration,” The Washington Times, March 21, 2017,

[36] Marina Koren, “Trump's Advisers Want to Return Humans to the Moon in Three Years,” The Atlantic, Feb. 9, 2017,

[37] Christian Davenport, “An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos's plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2017,

[38] Text of H.R.870 — REAL Space Act,, undated,; Damien Sharkov, “Russia Plans New Rocket For Future Moon Base,” Newsweek, Nov. 11, 2016,; and Andrew Griffin, “China and Europe to build a base on the moon and launch other projects into space,” The Independent, April 26, 2017, wng2p.

[39] Shannon Stirone, “Meet the Republican Congressman Obsessed With Sending America Back to the Moon,” Motherboard, Feb. 27, 2017,

[40] Testimony of Robert Richards before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, May 23, 2017,

[41] Eric Berger, “Quietly, NASA is reconsidering the moon as a destination,” The Houston Chronicle, April 3, 2015,

[42] Richard Gray, “‘We could be living on the moon by 2022’: Nasa claims a ‘cheap’ $10 billion lunar base will be ready for humans in just six years,” The Daily Mail, March 24, 2016,

[43] Calla Cofield, “The Moon or Mars? NASA Must Pick 1 Goal for Astronauts, Experts Tell Congress,”, Feb. 4, 2016,

[44] Cian O'Luanaigh, “No need for manned spaceflight, says astronomer royal Martin Rees,” The Guardian, July 26, 2010,

[45] Hanneke Weitering, “50th Anniversary of Apollo 1 Fire: What NASA Learned from the Tragic Accident,”, Jan. 27, 2017,

[46] Jeff Foust, “Weighing the risks of human spaceflight,” The Space Review, July 21, 2003,

[47] “Spirit and Opportunity,” NASA, undated,

[48] Davod Szondy, “NASA works to wake up Curiosity as mission gets two-year extension,” New Atlas, July 7, 2016,

[49] Ted Spitzmiller, The History Of Human Space Flight (2017), p. 128.

[50] Ibid., p. 129.

[51] Statement by the President Upon Signing the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, July 29, 1958, The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara,

[52] Logsdon, op. cit.

[53] Steven J. Dick, “50 Years of NASA History,” 50th Magazine, NASA, undated,

[54] “Glenn Orbits the Earth,” NASA, Feb. 16, 2012,

[55] Spitzmiller, op. cit., p. 226.

[56] “What Was the Gemini Program?” NASA, March 16, 2011,

[57] Logsdon, op. cit.

[58] Ibid.; William Harwood, “JFK legacy: Setting America on course for the moon,” CBS News, Nov. 21, 2013,

[59] “What Was the Apollo Program?” NASA, July 19, 2017,; Rochelle Oliver and Amisha Padnani, “They Walked on the Moon,” The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2017,

[60] “National Security Space Defense and Protection,” Committee on National Security Space Defense and Protection, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 2016, p. 9,; Lee Billings, “War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever,” Scientific American, Aug. 10, 2015,

[61] “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” Office for Outer Space Affairs, United Nations, undated,

[62] Logsdon, op. cit.

[63] Ibid.

[64] “Nasa budgets: US spending on space travel since 1958,” DataBlog, The Guardian, undated,

[65] Spitzmiller, op. cit., p. 429.

[66] “What Was the Apollo Program?” op. cit.

[67] “President Nixon's 1972 Announcement on the Space Shuttle,” NASA, undated,

[68] Spitzmiller, op. cit., p. 460.

[69] “The Skylab Crewed Missions,” NASA, May 6, 2013,

[70] Spitzmiller, op. cit., p. 464.

[71] “Why Did NASA End the Space Shuttle Program?” Forbes, Feb. 2, 2017,

[72] “Space Shuttle Era,” NASA, undated,; “First American Woman in Space,” NASA, updated July 31, 2015,; Clara Moskowitz, “Space Shuttle's Lasting Legacy: 30 Years of Historic Feats,”, April 6, 2011,

[73] Moskowitz, op. cit.

[74] Dick, op. cit.

[75] Canis, op. cit., p. 1; President Ronald Reagan, “Statement on Signing the Commercial Space Launch Act,” The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara, Oct. 30, 1984,

[76] “Commercial Orbital Transportation Service: A New Era in Space,” NASA, February 2014, p. 10,

[77] Ibid., p. 3.

[78] Tim Weiner, “Titan Lost Payload: Spy-Satellite System Worth $800 Million,” The New York Times, Aug. 4, 1993,

[79] Todd Harrison et al., “Beyond the RD-180,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 2017, p. 1,

[80] “H.R. 4399 (100th): Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments of 1988,” govtrack, Nov. 15, 1988,

[81] “Commercial Space Act of 1998, Title II — P.L. 105–303,” Office of the General Counsel, NASA, undated,

[82] “History and Timeline of the ISS,” Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, undated,; Tim Sharp, “International Space Station: Facts, History & Tracking,”, April 5, 2016,

[83] “International Space Station Legal Framework,” European Space Agency, undated,

[84] Anatoly Zak, “The Hidden History of the Soviet Satellite-Killer,” Popular Mechanics, Nov. 1, 2013,

[85] Broder, op. cit.

[86] Karl Tate, “Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster Explained (Infographic),”, Feb. 1, 2013,

[87] “President Bush Offers New Vision For NASA,” NASA, Jan. 14, 2004,

[88] Ker Than, “Obama Scrubs NASA's Manned Moon Missions,” National Geographic News, Feb. 1, 2010,; Clara Moskowitz, “NASA Stuck in Limbo as New Congress Takes Over,”, Jan. 7, 2011,; Zimmerman, op. cit., p. 10.

[89] Zimmerman, op. cit., p. 6.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid., p. 15.

[92] “Commercial Crew Program — The Essentials,” op. cit.

[93] “H.R.2262 — U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,”, undated,

[94] “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” op. cit.

[95] Scott Pace, “Regulating Outer Space: Making Space Commerce a Priority,” Foreign Affairs, May 12, 2016,

[96] Testimony of Matthew P. Schaefer before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, May 23, 2017,

[97] Ibid.

[98] Testimony of James E. Dunstan and Berin Szoka before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, May 23, 2017,

[99] Testimony of Michael Gold before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, May 23, 2017,

[100] Canis, op. cit., p. 14.

[101] Testimony of James E. Dunstan and Berin Szoka, op. cit.

[102] Testimony of Eli Dourado before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space, “Creating an Environment of Permissionless Innovation in Outer Space,” March 8, 2017,

[103] Testimony of Douglas L. Loverro before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space, March 8, 2017,

[104] Jeff Foust, “Cruz interested in updating Outer Space Treaty to support commercial space activities,” Space News, April 26, 2017,

[105] Sarah Schlieder, “Trump Is Bringing Back The National Space Council … What's That?”, June 7, 2017,; “NASA Statement on National Space Council,” news release, NASA, June 30, 2017,

[106] Leonard David, “Playing the Space Trump Card: Relaunching a National Space Council,”, Dec. 29, 2016,

[107] Jeff Foust, “Executive order creating National Space Council expected soon,” Space News, May 2, 2017,

[108] John Logsdon, “Is creating a National Space Council the best choice?” The Space Review, Jan. 3, 2017,

[109] Colby, op. cit., p. 17.

[110] Statement of Rep. Lamar Smith, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Sept. 27, 2016,

[111] Baiocchi and Welser, op. cit., p. 100.

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About the Author

Patrick Marshall, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher  

Patrick Marshall, a freelance policy and technology writer in Seattle, is a technology columnist for The Seattle Times and Government Computer News. He has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a master's degree in international studies from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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Document APA Citation
Marshall, P. (2017, August 4). New space race. CQ researcher, 27, 653-676. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2017080400
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Space Exploration
Aug. 04, 2017  New Space Race
Jun. 20, 2014  Search for Life On New Planets
Feb. 24, 2012  Space Program
Aug. 16, 2011  Weapons in Space
Oct. 16, 2009  Human Spaceflight
May 23, 2003  NASA's Future
Jul. 23, 1999  New Challenges in Space
Apr. 25, 1997  Space Program's Future
Dec. 24, 1993  Space Program's Future
Mar. 29, 1991  Uncertain Future for Man in Space
Jul. 31, 1987  Space Race
Feb. 07, 1986  Space Decisions after Challenger
Feb. 18, 1983  American Options in Space
Nov. 10, 1978  Changing U.S. Space Policy
Jul. 04, 1975  Cooperation in Space
Mar. 15, 1972  Space Shuttle Controversy
Oct. 01, 1969  Mission to Mars: Benefits Vs. Costs
Nov. 13, 1968  Goals in Space
Jun. 29, 1966  Future of Space Exploration
May 08, 1963  Moon Race Controversy
Jun. 27, 1962  Peaceful Use of Outer Space
Nov. 01, 1961  Space Exploration
Dec. 09, 1959  National Space Policy
Feb. 19, 1958  Control of Outer Space
Arms Control and Disarmament
Congress Actions
General Defense and National Security
General International Relations
Powers and History of the Presidency
Space Sciences and Exploration
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