Bulletin
Investor Alert

New York Markets Open in:

×

Paul Brandus Archives | Email alerts

July 19, 2019, 8:20 a.m. EDT

50 years after Apollo, does America have the right stuff to join the new space race?

We must not let China, Russia and others dominate space militarily

new
Watchlist Relevance
LEARN MORE

Want to see how this story relates to your watchlist?

Just add items to create a watchlist now:

or Cancel Already have a watchlist? Log In

By Paul Brandus, MarketWatch


NASA/AFP/Getty Images
American astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands on the Moon, 50 years ago this week.

Think about this: It took just 66 years — less than a lifetime — to go from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility. Sixty-six years from Orville and Wilbur Wright to Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

And let’s not forget Michael Collins, the other Apollo 11 astronaut, who circled the moon while his two comrades set foot on it. Of Collins it has been said “not since Adam has any human known such solitude.”

Sixty-six years. What has a child born in 1969 seen? More than you think. In 1997, the United States landed an unmanned spacecraft on Mars, for example, and from this popped out a small (23 pound) robotic rover named Sojourner. So far, no proof has been found that life exists, or ever existed, on the red planet, and yet scientists think it’s possible because Mars’s origins are considered similar to Earth’s.

And in 2005 a European Space Agency probe—Huygens—landed on Saturn, after being carried into space by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Depending on the time of the month, the moon is a mere 240,000 miles away. Saturn is—get this—746 million miles away. And we landed a spacecraft there.

Landing on Mars? On Saturn? These are staggering—yet practically ignored— accomplishments. Not to mention decades worth of data and experiments gleaned from our continuous presence, along with that of astronauts from other nations—on the international space station.

Generation of innovation

So for someone to ask what have we done since the Apollo 11 program ended—there’s your answer.

There is also this: The huge boost in research and development that underpinned our moon shot spurred a generation of innovation that led to so many products, so many technologies, so many improvements in so many sectors of the American economy that it would take scores of pages to list them all.

But federal research and development, as a percentage of gross domestic product, has been slipping for years; this must be reversed.

We are entering a new space race, a competition with foreign rivals to conquer a new corner of the heavens. A half-century ago it was the Russians; we have several rivals now, principally China, which hopes to establish a moon base by 2030, and which has its eyes on Mars as well.

In the first space race, national pride was at stake.

America and the Soviet Union saw the race to the moon as a test of wills and of their economic and political systems. That’s the case now with China, which sees its system and society as superior to ours.

National security implications

But there is something new this time: more than ever, space exploration—and the dominance that goes with it—will have clear national security implications. Consider the following:

• China has tested a system that analysts say could destroy most American satellites—a critical backbone to our modern economy.

1 2
This Story has 0 Comments
Be the first to comment
More News In
Economy & Politics

Story Conversation

Commenting FAQs »
Link to MarketWatch's Slice.