Surrendering in Space

FNC panel 1

The discussion panel on the FNC program “Surrendering America,” March 28, 2014.

Last night the Fox News Channel ran a one-hour special report entitled Surrendering America.  The program focused on four major areas of national interest – ceding control of the Internet, reducing the U.S. military, restricting energy independence and our retreat from space.  The overarching theme of the program was national decline.  The inclusion of space as a concern drew my attention, as it is not usually viewed by the public as in decline (in large part because media coverage reflects their own lack of understanding and narrow knowledge of the subject).  So I was encouraged that the show’s producers viewed space as vital to U.S. national interests and watched to see how they perceived this surrender — the causes and motivations behind it and how they viewed the consequences of this weakened position.

The program was divided into four segments, one for each area of national concern.  A five-minute news overview preceded each segment, followed by a four-member panel discussion of each report’s content.  Space advocates should take sober notice that the panelists – all well-read, highly regarded Beltway pundits (from both ends of the political spectrum) – appear to be fairly uninformed about many of the space policy issues.  But consider: they are representative of the intelligent general public, to whom we wish to convince of the value and importance of space.

All the panelists recognize that we are no longer the space power that we once were, although each had differing views of the causes and importance of such a decline.  Kirsten Powers claimed that space spending had to be cut because of our enormous debt/deficit problem.  George Will noted that the fiscal demands of the entitlement state are squeezing out all discretionary spending – the category in which the space program falls.  Joe Trippi dutifully recited the administration talking points that we are moving forward to asteroid landings and human Mars missions in the 2030s.  Charles Krauthammer opined that decline was a choice, not an inevitable fact of life.  In his view, our great national wealth and technology base need only be harnessed through visionary leadership, something lacking in the current environment.  Although rife with misinformation and an incomplete understanding of some of the issues, in policy terms, these comments bound the national debate (such as it is) about our civil space program.

Consider that some adopt the view that “everything is okay” because there are missions flying (few understand that those missions are running on fumes and were authorized under a previous administration).  They believe that unnamed “technologies” will fill in any gaps.  This viewpoint mirrors the administration’s declaration that they do have a strategic direction and are implementing it – if only Congress would spend more money on “commercial” space.  In fact, commercial space is moving ahead about as fast as it can; they have already missed several milestones on the road to “human-rating” their space vehicles.  It is not clear that spending more federal money on this program would result in the advent of a commercial crew transportation system any earlier than is currently planned (ca. 2017, if then).  No one on the panel (including the moderator, Bret Baier) mentioned the SLS/Orion program, designed (by Congress) to replace the canceled Constellation system.  This launch vehicle and spacecraft is on track to provide a U.S. human cislunar capability sometime after 2020, so we are not totally bereft of any effort to devise a federal transportation system for humans to space.

A more enlightening discussion would have examined NASA’s long-term goals and strategic direction in space.  Though alluded to in several places (mostly by Trippi in regard to “human missions to an asteroid”), the panel members are apparently unaware that the administration’s goal has been downsized to studying the concept of hauling a small asteroid back to lunar orbit, where it can be visited by a human crew.  Krauthammer mentioned a lunar base and human Mars missions but did not elaborate on their value or difficulty.  The sense of the panel seemed to be that our civil space program exists primarily as a symbol of national technical means and greatness – a trivialization of the nation’s space program by both sides of the ideological spectrum (from the left because “we can’t afford it” and from the right because its value is primarily “symbolic”).

Curiously, the major theme developed during the other three segments of the show emphasized their importance to our national security.  Security concerns and implications are clearly evident in relinquishing our control of the Internet, reducing our military capabilities and creating self-imposed roadblocks to our energy independence.  But their concern for the value of space and our retreat in that arena was seen primarily as being symbolic and not as a practical loss.  I do not deny the importance of symbolism, but the space program has always been an integral part of our national defense posture, not only from the direct value of military space (non-NASA) but also from the relevance of our civil space efforts to national security.

NASA missions have blazed the trail to future theaters of operation; these are national concerns vital to defense needs and they have been a well-understood driver of our technical and economic vitality.  The value of space assets – communications satellites, GPS, reconnaissance and remote sensing and detection – were all developed in tandem by both military and civil space, with such intertwining that it is impossible to separate the two.  The space theater of the future is cislunar space, where most of our satellite assets (critical to military action and economic stability on the Earth) reside.  Such satellites are extremely vulnerable and the fact that we currently lack a means to protect and routinely and repeatedly access them is a national security concern of major significance.  That this concern was not touched on during the program was striking.  It is not enough to know that space is symbolic of our national mood.  The nation must also understand that there are concrete negative implications if we retreat in our pursuit of space leadership.  Those who are not space powerful are space vulnerable.

As we continue to increase our already heavy reliance on satellite assets in deep space, the need to have the ability to access and use those various locales becomes more acute.  The idea that cislunar space can be developed solely by commercial entities is a misguided and myopic conceit of the current leadership.  Historically, the federal government (in both military and civil guise) has always been present on the frontier, in tandem and simultaneously with entrepreneurs, miners, farmers and settlers.  They are necessary for the protection of those activities and to ensure that national and individual legal norms are served and observed.  If we are absent from the cislunar frontier, there is no assurance that free markets, the rule of law and democratic pluralism will be present there.  This is the principal reason why a federal agency (who, after all, are nothing more than our proxies in collective and international arenas) must be present in all of the future zones of human activities beyond low Earth orbit.

All of these points about the practical national value of the space program are lost on the current administration and agency leadership (and it must said, also on many in the space community).  In their view, the space program is primarily for spectacle – a series of PR stunts designed to amuse the American people, much as the gladiatorial contests of imperial Rome were used to pacify a restless and entitled public.  Therefore, they believe that it is optional and disposable.  Yes, national greatness is important and the civil space program is a symbol of that greatness (though NASA has been getting an extended ride on the wave of Apollo accomplishments for some time now).  But, we keep hearing the proud American boast that America has done all those things that nations such as China, Russia, India and Japan are attempting to do (and are doing) now.  We are told that they are just trying to prove themselves in space – joining the club, so to speak (a club in which we have let our membership lapse, so that we now have to buy rides to the ISS on Russian rockets).

The fact that the American space program was considered to be a critical part of a program entitled “Surrendering America” tells you much about where we are as a nation.  The concerns outlined in this program are all real and valid, yet incomplete.  It is indeed “a surrender” and in this case (as Krauthammer put it), decline is a choice, not an inevitable fact of nature.  Kirsten Powers sees our current lack of direction as a mere “pause,” yet it becomes increasingly clear with time that this condition is a planned outcome, not some inadvertent and unintentional development.  George Will pointed out a salient fact that most of the others ignored – the human capital of our national space program is dissipating.  People have to support their families and cannot wait indefinitely for the problems of our space program to resolve themselves.  This is the real reason why Congress mandated a specific design for SLS – this vehicle is not a flight program, but a placeholder, designed to keep at least a nucleus of spaceflight capability together for some future time when new leadership might pick up the broken pieces of a once-great program and attempt to again move us forward in space.

Host Bret Baier concluded by saying that if we are surrendering as a nation, we need to do so with our eyes open and with full knowledge of the consequences of such policies.  I applaud Fox News for taking on this topic.  Although it was not as complete and as insightful as it could have been, it dramatized our current dilemma in civil space and recognized one salient fact to which many are oblivious: decline creeps in slowly and unobserved.  And usually, you don’t realize that what you once had is gone until it is too late to retrieve it.  With this surrender of vital national assets, it becomes clear that not only have we been set on a self-crippling path, one that sees us relinquishing personal responsibility within our society, but also one that now accepts that our nation is turning away from collective responsibility for events on the world stage.

Taken individually, the four segments of Surrendering America are disturbing. Taken together, the totality is frightening. By choosing this path, we are willingly giving away our security and in doing so, denying our children their national birthright of freedom and liberty.

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39 Responses to Surrendering in Space

  1. Its my view that since the explosion of human population during the beginning of the agricultural revolution and the dawn of civilization, humanity has always been in a crisis of trying to sustain an ever growing population. And this constant crisis of trying to support our continuously increasing numbers is the primary reason for the dramatic scientific and technological advancements that have occurred over the past 12,000 years.

    However, there have been periods when politics, or superstition, or even hubris has mitigated or halted the advancement of science and technology.

    America is at its best when both government and private industry are competing against other nations for technological supremacy. One of the best things to ever happen to America was its competition with the Soviet Union in space after the launch of Sputnik. One of the worst things to happen to America was when the Soviets cried uncle and decided not to go to the Moon after we got there first.

    Its rather shocking that in the Scientific Age, America has become so cynical that they no longer see the advancement of science and technology as the essential key to human progress an prosperity. The irony, of course, is that human civilization would simply collapse into chaos and mass starvation without science and technology.

    And of all our beneficial scientific and technological pursuits, human advancements in space easily holds the most promise, IMO.


  2. Michael Wright says:

    Are we surrendering in space? USAF Space Command has considerable assets not discussed frequently and maybe those in power find these are sufficient, no need to put people into space with exception of jobs programs in certain states benefitting from SLS/Orion.

    Lack of understanding of panelists shows generally most Americans have little interest in the space program unless a specific event gets there attention. But then maybe space came into discussion because maybe people are realizing they don’t know what they are missing until it is gone. i.e. nobody complains about water until the well runs dry.

  3. Joe says:

    Just finished watching the show (recorded it) and agree with the overall assessment. A couple of points one trivial the other (I think anyway) more significant.

    The trivial point first. George Will attempted to trot out the tired “robots über alles” anthem once again (as does Michael Wright in his post March 30, 2014 at 11:19 am) even seeming to assert for a minute that there was no issue because there were robots on Mars. When the rest of the panelist (left and right) ignored this, he returned to the actual topic and attributed the retreat from space to the deficit (as did Trippi and Powers) that prompted Krauthammer’s comment that “decline is a choice not a condition.”

    On to the more significant point. I think the retreat from space issue made the cut along with the military, energy, internet issues due to Neil Cavuto (who did the news report introduction to the discussion segment.

    Cavuto (as anyone who has seen his show on Fox knows) is a big supporter of the space program and has done a number of segments decrying the current situation. His interest in the area seems driven (as is Krauthammer’s) by the symbolic showing of national greatness, but his interest seems sincere and intense enough that if presented with a well explained description of the practical reasons for the development of cis-lunar space he would take it seriously and perhaps get it discussed (at least on his own program and maybe in a special like this) as he appears to have the power to get it included on this program

    He is not likely to listen to a grunt engineer like myself, but coming from someone accurately described as a Senior Staff Scientist at Lunar and Planetary Institute; he just might.

  4. gbaikie says:

    -Marcel Williams says:
    March 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Its my view that since the explosion of human population during the beginning of the agricultural revolution and the dawn of civilization, humanity has always been in a crisis of trying to sustain an ever growing population. And this constant crisis of trying to support our continuously increasing numbers is the primary reason for the dramatic scientific and technological advancements that have occurred over the past 12,000 years.-

    Though this common view, I think it is wrong.

    -However, there have been periods when politics, or superstition, or even hubris has mitigated or halted the advancement of science and technology. –

    I would say this is not “some times”, rather I would say it’s more or less a constant, and the very present moment is very evident and if it’s not actually increasing, then it’s about the average amount as it has always been.
    The difference is government has sometimes been less hostile or destructive to “advancement of science and technology”. One also think of this as government encouraging “advancement of science and technology”. But I think such “encouragement” is analogous to not whipping your children as much as you normally do.

    The fundamental aspect related to “advancement of science and technology” is human liberty.
    And it’s also connected to exploration. Or more liberty tends to give more exploration- because
    exploration is something humans do.

    It was the US private sector, which allowed the US government to beat the Soviets to the Moon.
    It wasn’t better US government was better at “managing technology” but rather it had better technology which already existed that it could use. And of course massive amounts wealth to use.
    Same reason US won WWII- better people and more wealth.

    • The Apollo program was a government program, not a private program. Private companies built the rockets, machines, and infrastructure that enabled America to get to the Moon, but it was financed by the tax payers– not private industry.

      But there’s nothing surprising or new about that since America is a capitalist society that operates within the framework of a Democratic Republic. Practically everything built for the government, including our powerful military, is mostly built by private industry. But again government is financed by the tax payers.

      You could argue that the rise of commercial satellites is privately financed but initially even these satellites were launched by government owned rockets.

      Liberty is great but you don’t necessarily need it for scientific and technological progress. There wasn’t much liberty in the Soviet Union when they launched the first satellites into orbit. There wasn’t much liberty in NAZI Germany when they deployed the first space rockets (V2) and jet planes. And the development of satellites, nuclear energy, computers, and even the internet was originally developed by the US Federal government and financed by the tax payers.

      Necessity is the primary mother of invention. The need for societies and individuals to eat, drink, and to raise families while protecting themselves from hostile enemies and environments is usually the primary driving force for scientific and technological innovation and advancement.

      Capitalist prosperity in the Americas was initially created by exploiting and enslaving other people: whites, blacks, Amerindians and taking people’s land– by any means necessary (You really don’t see a whole lot of Amerindians in America today even though they occupied the North American continent for more than 10,000 years.)

      But, fortunately, in the last few hundred years in America, we have a Bill of Rights and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people that has evolved to protect individuals from the tyranny of the powerful and the prejudiced. But liberty for the majority of people in America (women) is extremely new– with women finally having the right to vote in 1920.

      But I would agree with you that capitalism and the scientific and technological progress resulting from it is most greatly enhanced through liberty. But, again, for the majority of the American people and for human civilization as a whole, that’s a very recent occurrence.


    • Michael Wright says:

      “Same reason US won WWII- better people and more wealth.”

      It was also priority of top men to win WWII, same with beating the Soviets to the moon was a top priority as well. Right now, it isn’t so that’s why we argue over scraps on the forums.

      This drawdown is kind of like 1970s which included Club of Rome with “limits of growth” studies but never considered exploiting resources outside earth advocated by Gerard O’Neill and others. If there is somehow we can take space travel to the next level of actually doing something revolutionary instead of debating the one legged stool. Let’s see if reusable rocket can at least make LEO access routine.

      • gbaikie says:

        “This drawdown is kind of like 1970s which included Club of Rome with “limits of growth” studies but never considered exploiting resources outside earth advocated by Gerard O’Neill and others. If there is somehow we can take space travel to the next level of actually doing something revolutionary instead of debating the one legged stool. Let’s see if reusable rocket can at least make LEO access routine.”

        I am hopeful SpaceX will be successful. And if nothing else at least they actually attempting it and further progress could be expected.

        And I am still hopeful we will get some suborbital trips this year or the next.

        I think what NASA should focused on is actual exploration in which the purpose of such exploration is related to determining what space resources couldn’t commercially minable in nearest term.

        • billgamesh says:

          Please do not use Gerard K. O’Neill to commend Elon Musk. They have very little in common.
          Mining space, reusable rockets, suborbital joyrides; all a scam masquerading under the banner of space exploration.

          • Michael Wright says:

            I don’t think was using O’Neill to commend Elon. At least for me I was commenting that 40 years ago there were considerable studies about space settlements that included mining the moon. Much of this assumed Shuttle will be low-cost reusable as a first step but in reality this was not so. SpaceX comes into this discussion because it is lower cost than previous rockets and they are working on another attempt at reusable where everything else is not (i.e. SLS, Soyuz, Ariane). But then when a lowcost reusable means to LEO becomes reality, then maybe some actual stuff can be done instead of PPT and ranting on the forums.

      • We had a reusable vehicle for a few decades called the Space Shuttle.

        But in order for human access to LEO to become routine, there has to be a high demand for human space travel. A civilian government space program would never require such a high demand.

        However, there are more than 20,000 people in the world worth more than $100 million who could easily afford the $27 million to $37 million cost of traveling to a private space station. If just 1% of that number traveled into space every year (200 people), that would require 40 manned flights per year. That would be enough demand for three or four private companies to start reducing cost even more which could catalyze a significant increase in flight demand and further reductions in cost.

        If we also had a space lotto system, then hundreds of regular folks could also travel into space every year.


  5. Evan Dickinson says:

    Elon Musk is our space program. Fortunately the tax-payers cannot cut him out because he will pursue what he is pursuing regardless of tax-payer support. Unfortunately (in my view) he only cares about Mars, but cheap transportation will open everything else up.

  6. guest says:

    I hear all the time from friends outside of the space program that the declining budget nationally is the reason the space budget has been cut back though I believe the space budget was relatively constant at least until the last couple of years. To me it appears that the lack of a plan or strategy, and perhaps this was recognozed by the lack of any knowledge of purpose beyond symbology, and the outrageous contractor costs when working through NASA, yet not when working commercially, are the reasons we are doing less and moving more slowly than we should be. I did not hear any commentary about ISS. Was there any? I just purchased a relatively recent book by TIME, Inc on space. No mention of ISS at all.

    • Most Americans have very little interest in the ISS, IMO, because they don’t see living in a microgravity environment as part of humanity’s future.

      The core of human interest in space travel is the innate belief that future generations will someday live and work and reproduce on the Moon and Mars and in rotating artificial gravity space structures.

      But we don’t even know if any of that is really possible. And those currently directing NASA’s future don’t seem to be interested in finding out– even though it wouldn’t be that difficult to deploy a simple outpost on the lunar surface or to deploy a simple rotating space– habitat– to produce a simulated gravity.


    • denniswingo says:

      The increase in the federal budget JUST since 2005 has been a trillion dollars PER YEAR. We don’t have a declining budget.

  7. Bob shaw says:

    These comments all leave out one major player: NASA itself. It hasn’t been ‘the NASA of Apollo’ for many decades, though it still lives off the glories of the 1960s. NASA, it seems to me, is itself part of the problem – timid, politically correct, full of fiefdoms and committees and gigantic (and fragile) one-off projects. Oh, and PowerPoint. Goldin tried to stir the anthill, but was sidelined, and nobody else has done anything but tinker or throw fuel on the fire (or hide). No, NASA isn’t NASA any more, and that’s half the problem.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      NASA’s New Mission and the Cult of Management, July 10, 2010

      [Excerpt] During a recent interview on Al Jazeera television, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden outlined NASA’s new priorities. His remarks became headlines as the previously ignored story about the redirection of the space agency toward international diplomatic outreach and global climate change research finally reached the many who still hold NASA in high regard. Beyond the inane and vacuous policy comments, one statement by Administrator Bolden went virtually unnoticed: “We’re not going to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit as a single entity,” he revealed, “The United States can’t do it.” If it’s possible to shock Americans into paying attention to NASA and our national space program, those words might do it.

      • Joe says:

        You have to hope so, but when you see comments like – “Elon Musk is our space program.”, it does not inspire confidence.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          “Confidence” is a luxury that space advocates haven’t had for many years. That’s simply a fact of life that we must deal with.

          • billgamesh says:


            Stop watching Fox news propaganda and your attitude might improve. It has been clinically proven to cause brain damage.

            My personal fair and balanced report is that if Musk can get away with that escape-system-that-is-not-an-escape-system on the Dragon then human-rating the Delta-IV for the Orion (which has an actual LAS) should be possible.

            And that would give us a way back into space long before the hobby rocket ever delivers any tourists.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Stop watching Fox news propaganda and your attitude might improve. It has been clinically proven to cause brain damage.

            There wasn’t one thing on that special that was incorrect or “propaganda” — my point is that it was incomplete.

          • Joe says:

            Rather than berating Fox for reporting part of the story (when the other “news” organizations are not reporting on it at all) it would be better to encourage them to report more of it.

            That is the reason I earlier suggested trying to get the Case for the Development of Cis-Lunar Space in front of Neil Cavuto.

          • Joe says:

            By the way my comment was intended as reply to billgamesh’s snarky comment: “Stop watching Fox news propaganda and your attitude might improve. It has been clinically proven to cause brain damage. ”

            Just to avoid any confusion.

        • This is especially true since Space X was created in 2002 (12 years ago) and has yet to put a human into orbit. NASA was created in 1958 and placed a human into orbit just four years later and had men on the Moon just 11 years later).

          When politically allowed to accomplish a task, NASA has pretty much always come through!


          • denniswingo says:

            And given a blank checkbook…

          • “Given a blank check book”

            I guess you could say the same thing about the Spanish government financing the voyages of Columbus.

            But the role of government is to do those things deemed necessary for national interest that private industry either cannot do, or has no interest in doing, or cannot do as efficiently as the government can.

            And in the long run, the principal economic beneficiaries of such efforts is usually– private industry!

            Space X and other commercial crew companies wouldn’t even be a possibility if it wasn’t for the huge investment in space technology by the tax payers. And companies like Space X continue to utilize technologies and infrastructure originally financed by the tax payers. Space X even pockets tax payer money to develop their own space technology with no obligation to return those dollars back to the tax payers.

            So private industry loves government and loves getting their hands on tax payer money to fund their private efforts. Just ask Elon:-)


  8. K Lundermann says:

    America’s military and commercial satellites are found in orbits with radii of about 40,000 km (GEO) or less. Given that the moon orbits at about 400,000 km, these important satellites are confined to approximately one one-thousandth of the volume of cislunar space. Is it not rather a leap to suggest that the “space theater of the future is cislunar space, where most of our satellite assets (critical to military action and economic stability on the Earth) reside”?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Is it not rather a leap to suggest that the “space theater of the future is cislunar space, where most of our satellite assets (critical to military action and economic stability on the Earth) reside”?

      No, because energetically, GEO, the L-points and lunar orbit are essentially equivalent. Thus, the ability to go to and from one conveys the ability to go to and from all of them.

    • Joe says:

      If I might, another point.

      It is not the distance that matters if you are talking about building/launching and then maintaining/servicing satellites from the lunar surface rather than the earth’s surface. It is the energy required to reach those orbits (generally referred to as Delta-V).

      The Delta-V from the lunar surface to reach any orbit in cis-lunar space (even LEO) is dramatically less than that required from the earth’s surface.

      • Plus you could use lunar vehicles that are totally reusable and could be refueled from lunar resources.


        • Joe says:


          If lunar resources are not to be used, it would make no sense to go to the moon; then take off again to go to the satellite location. If lunar resources are to be used it makes great sense.

          It is a matter of capital investment. If your concept of future use of space assets is what we do now or less (apparently the current administrations real position, in spite of some inconsistent rhetoric to the contrary), then it is not worth it to develop lunar resources. If your concept of future use of space assets is one where the capabilities (military, civilian, exploration) should all grow and become more reliable and efficient, then it is imperative to develop lunar resources.

          This brings us back to the news program that caused the initiation of this conversation and Charles Krauthammer’s comment that “decline is a choice not a condition.”

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  10. JohnG says:

    Three cheers for Charles Krauthammer for telling like it is! The Obama Administration’s handling of NASA is abysmal. Isn’t that where you go during a decline, the abyss? Several have already pointed out his quote that the decline is “choice not a condition”, Obama’s choice. But some of his other quotes were spot on. In regards to Trippi’s use of Obama’s speaking points of going to an asteroid in 2025 (which we’re not even doing anymore, update your script Joe!) and Mars by 2030 (which should be “sometime in the 2030’s” -read the script right Joe), Charles was very accurate in saying “It’s not a plan, it was an announcement. There is nothing that is going to produce any of that in our lifetime.” Before both of the President Bush strategic speeches on human space exploration (SEI in 1989 and VSE in 2004), technical NASA working groups and space committees worked for over a year in defining an incremental approach to exploration beyond LEO that made sense (though NASA’s implementation of both programs is certainly questionable). Obama’s announcement in Florida came out of nowhere, a royal decree indeed. Stunning even NASA. Driven by nothing more than pure politics, mainly – Bush talked about the Moon, Bush is bad, therefore the Moon is bad. Krauthammer also mentioned how America’s space program is a “matter of will & leadership”, neither of which the Obama administration has, and how “it is truly a national tragedy” what has happened to our nation’s human spaceflight program. His final quote may turn out to be quite prophetic, “the only footprints that will be absent on the Moon are going to be American ones.” Sad but very true if we stay on the Obama path to nowhere. Asteroid stunts are not a strategic plan.

    While Kirsten Powers was not as much as an Obama puppet as Trippi, it was incredible that she said our space program’s decline was due to a lack of money. We have certainly increased our spending on food stamps, $80 billion and rising! She said we are just taking a “pause”, true, but it is not because of lack of money, the pause is purely due the Obama Administration’s naive and politically driven handling of the space program.

    Thank God for Congress continuing with SLS and Orion, workhorses that will be needed to reopen the cis-lunar frontier for America. Both Russia, and China have announce plans for heavy launch vehicles. I’m all for international cooperation and commercial participation, but I hope we have learned our lesson on being dependent on a foreign government to get our astronauts into space and beyond LEO.

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