Recent Advances in Space

By 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith

The urge to explore new frontiers is a natural human characteristic. Governments have long recognized this fact and supported exploration in order to gain the benefits of knowledge, resources, and skills uncovered in the quest to go where no one has gone before.

In the twentieth century, this quest took its most notable form in the Space Race as the United States and the Soviet Union competed, seeking to outdo each other with ever more impressive feats. July 20 was the 51st anniversary of the greatest feat yet, the first manned landing on the Moon.

Unlike the quest to sail around the globe or reach the North and South Poles, the Space Race goes on.

It is no longer between the Soviet Union and the United States. More countries have entered it, and at the same time, more cooperation between countries has taken place. The infinity of space provides an ongoing source of boundaries to surpass and achievements to reach.

On July 30, the Mars Perseverance rover was launched toward the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket. I had the chance to participate in a virtual briefing for Members of Congress earlier that week with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator James Bridenstine.

In its explorations, Perseverance will collect data on the environment of Mars, search for signs of past conditions that may have made it habitable, and study important questions for any future manned landing attempt.

Perseverance will improve the scientific understanding of Mars and contribute to the long-term goal of a human expedition there.

Another step toward the goal of landing on Mars occurred earlier this year with the resumption of manned spaceflight from our country.

After the Space Shuttle program ended under the Obama Administration in 2011, any American astronauts that went to space did so by hitching a ride on Russian rockets. But on May 30, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in a rocket designed by SpaceX. They successfully docked with the International Space Station and returned to Earth on August 2.

NASA’s partnership with SpaceX characterizes this next phase of human space exploration, in which many low-Earth orbit activities are performed by commercial operators. Meanwhile, the agency focuses on returning humans to the Moon, establishing a long-term presence there, and ultimately going beyond it to Mars.

When I was at the White House on Independence Day, a ceremony reminded me of another recent development in our space presence. When an honor guard consisting of members of the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces appeared, a representative of the newest branch, established on December 20, 2019, was included for the first time at the White House’s Fourth of July celebrations: the Space Force.

National defense must extend into space because our capabilities in space are important to life on Earth. Consider the satellite networks that enable an array of functions, including navigation systems, communications, and weather forecasting.

The plaque left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts reads, “We came in peace for all mankind.” Other actors may not share the same noble intent. Opponents including Russia and China are developing tools such as anti-satellite missiles that could cripple important defenses and services upon which we depend.

President Trump championed the Space Force to ensure that as humans continue to make advances in space, space will not serve as a platform to weaken our national security. A strong national defense deters our enemies on sea, land, and air; it must do so in space as well.

The creation of the Space Force is necessary to deter threats against our interests in space. A strong U.S. presence in space will also allow for the development of space in line with our values, not those of Russia or China.

In space, humanity finds an outlet to satisfy our longing to explore the unknown as well as a platform for technology that improves our life on Earth. A beneficial national space policy will protect and advance these twin uses.

Neil Armstrong famously said upon stepping foot on the Moon, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” There are many more steps and leaps to take.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments contact my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405; my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671 or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

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