December 01, 2019


For a half-century, America stood as the unrivaled leader in space. And yet, in 2011, we lost our way and abandoned a hard-fought legacy. Despite the political indecision that drew down human spaceflight on American soil, the enterprise and ingenuity of the private sector is leading a renaissance in human space exploration.

History is replete with nations eclipsed before their time, consumed with present-day concerns rather than forging their futures. We must avoid such a fate. The stakes of conquering the heavens are far too high to measure in mere calculation of the moment. As Carl Sagan presciently noted, “civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct.”

Fortunately, since the last Shuttle lifted off from Cape Canaveral, the International Space Station (ISS) has endured and now leads the way in accumulating the data needed to propel humans beyond the shelter of our planet’s magnetic shield.

While the risks of space travel are real in both blood and treasure, we have but one choice: to explore and learn. That is the true commonality among every human culture that has evolved and thrived on our small sphere — we are adventurers.

And so, the time has come to rededicate our nation to human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit — and in that endeavor, NASA will play a critical role. If we capitalize on the current momentum, we can unlock unprecedented economic opportunities. One thing we understand is that resources are finite on our planet and yet quite abundant in the cosmos. In fact, as well observed by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an average-size comet contains as much water as ever consumed by people. Imagine the possibilities when these resources become available to us.

Unfortunately, some see only the pecuniary cost of space exploration rather than the immeasurable value of bold enterprises such as NASA’s new Artemis program. The Artemis program aims to establish the first human habitation on the Moon by utilizing the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle and its Orion crew capsule. Taking the long view on space exploration is critical to maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness. Just as vital is keeping Artemis on track and putting boots on the ground at the South Lunar Pole. This necessary first step in opening commercial space will allow industry to take hold and build the capacity to venture forth even farther — to Mars and beyond.

Commercial space stands upon the shoulders of giants, from Saturn V and Apollo to today’s multifaceted Artemis human spaceflight program. With ever-increasing capital flow, the private space industry is beginning to take flight with tourism, life-extending medical research, and soon, manufacturing in low-Earth orbit. But commercial markets require certainty, and the success of NASA’s Artemis program — in addition to maintaining the ISS — are all equally essential to the growth of the private-sector space economy.

The American star still burns brightly. We are once again on the precipice of greatness, pushing the limits of industry and innovation to expand the reach of humankind. Embedded in the DNA of the nation is the ambition to bend science to the benefit of all humanity. And with America leading the way through NASA’s Artemis program, we can bring the world with us again as we explore the next economic frontier.

The time ahead portends to upend all that has come before. Space technologies and applications are already improving every element of life on Earth. But mathematics tells us to expect far more as we set our sights into the cosmos and master interplanetary travel. Artemis is the first step in that journey. This program is the boldest endeavor in human history, and we must see it succeed.


The author is Executive Director of the Procurement and Space Industry Council for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On Dec. 3, he will be hosting LAUNCH: The Space Economy, the Chamber’s second annual commercial space summit in Washington, D.C.