In 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced America’s intention to put an astronaut on the moon. Seven years after he resolved our commitment to space’s “new hopes for knowledge and peace,” and six years after his tragic death, the first human footprints marked the surface of the moon.
In today’s Democratic Party, that pioneering legacy lives on. President Barack Obama was as committed to taking bold steps to advance scientific understanding, going beyond increasing NASA’s budget and extending International Space Station operations.
Obama deepened private-sector partnerships in space technology and was praised by Buzz Aldrin and SpaceX founder Elon Musk when he announced his administration’s priorities in space policy in 2010. His plans included breaking with the failed investment of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft, as the project was already five years late and a sink for billions of dollars. It’s a commendable act to refuse to drain more money into a project that wouldn’t produce results.
The Obama administration also provided funding for new advancements in NASA Earth Science, paving the way for the launch of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System satellites to track the formation and magnitude of hurricanes. This field grows more vital as anthropogenic climate change turns the Earth’s weather patterns more violent and erratic.
As our current leaders deny the realities of our planet’s changing environment and use sharpies to redraw weather maps that don’t fit political narratives, it’s worth remembering that when a political party stops believing in the problems science tells us we’re faced with, they also stop believing in the power of human ingenuity to rise to those challenges.
Under the Trump administration, useful projects have been left by the wayside and Earth Science missions have been cancelled. For all their bluster about Mars, a party that pollutes the atmosphere can’t take us past it. A party that walks out of UN meetings and abandons American leadership on climate science can’t hope to lead in space exploration. A party like the Republican Party, whose leaders can’t find the courage to face hard truths, will never take us to the Red Planet or back to the Moon.
To the Democratic Party, space isn’t just a frontier for exploration, but part of the larger ecosystem we live in and an unread library of knowledge — and just as, per the National Research Council, NASA’s first spaceflight projects supported “the development of new technologies and their broader adoption throughout the economy,” Democratic leaders will use space as a pathway to understand our place in the cosmos and secure prosperity back on Earth.
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Moreover, the Democratic Party will preserve the civilian character of America’s space program. Kennedy warned that we must choose if space will be “a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.” The Trump administration’s recklessness has pushed us further toward a nightmare of space militarization.
As Trump’s “Space Force” blurs the line between military and civilian space policy in a sci-fi joke gone wrong, the GOP charges forward on a concept opposed by General Jim Mattis, then Trump’s Defense Secretary.
When the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy frets over the “democratization of space” being a threat to America’s military while the president scrambles to outdo Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” in making impossible promises, the Republican Party has no claim to leadership on national security in space. The Democratic Party values space as a venue of peace, but will take all action necessary to protect that peace by giving serious solutions to real problems instead of waving around flashy fantasies to get headlines.
As America approaches the 2020 election, when every headline points to a new low, we have reason to hope. We can look at the races up and down the ballot in terms of partisan clashes and cynical power politics, but we can also look to the stars and wonder which leaders will take us there. We can ask which party offers a vision that values both the planet we live on and what lies past it.
If you believe in science and the better future it can build for us — if you believe in technology that improves not just our rockets but the lives of ordinary people — the Democratic Party has a place for you.
And as America continues what Kennedy called the “most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure,” we ask you to vote with us for leaders to take us forward, upwards and onwards together.
Ethan Carpenter ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science. He is the press secretary for the College Democrats of UW-Madison.
Read about the College Republicans’ position on space exploration here.