DANIEL VAUGHAN: Reigniting the dream and hope of space exploration

July 22, 2019

America’s national celebration this past weekend of its accomplishment of setting foot on the face of the moon was a sight to behold. The ceremonies, interviews with those who made the feat possible, and countdowns flooded airwaves as we celebrated such a marvel from 50 years ago — a time when America stood atop all of human history.

July 21, 1969 reminded us of our love affair with exploration and bringing the stars a little bit closer, and it’s something we need to re-harness to move into the future.

The most romanticized view of American space exploration is that we do it because we’re driven to venture out beyond the scope of our knowledge and sight. You get that depiction from science-fiction television shows like the original Star Trek, which began nearly episode with the line:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!

Those lines echoed President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University on May 25, 1961. Kennedy told people, “[T]his is not merely a race. Space is open to us now, and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

I love this notion of space travel not just because it romanticizes space travel, but also because it reminds us of all the explorers of yore. Space is one of the few places where you can feel like you’re an ancient sailor heading into the unknown west, or Marco Polo heading to the far east.

President Kennedy and shows like Star Trek captured this romantic sense of purpose perfectly. In the case of Star Trek, though, it was entirely wrong, because Gene Roddenberry’s creation was a wholly socialist utopia where all vice, money, and want is gone.

Rekindling the American drive for space exploration requires more than a belief that exploration is an end unto itself; though, for me, that is enough. At the beginning of President Kennedy’s speech on accelerating the space race, he couched it in terms of a national imperative — failing to do so would allow the Soviets, and communism, to win:

[I]f we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take.

To that end, America should continue to view space travel as an imperative of national security. The Chinese and Russians continue to push forward in space themselves, and allowing tyrannical regimes to gain the upper hand in space is a direct threat to U.S. ambitions.

Moreover, perhaps most significant is that space travel can 0pen up avenues for American capitalism to begin mining asteroids, moons, and planets for resources that allow us to thrive. And by thrive, I mean to provide the Earth with an explosion of wealth.

Some estimates of the potential of asteroid mining alone place the value at more than $100 trillion. We’d also gain access to a wealth of rare earth elements that are currently getting bought up by the Chinese.

Rare earth metals and minerals are crucial to continuing our technological advancement. Opening up new avenues to getting these resources would go a long way toward making us independent from other countries.

Think of the freedom America has gained by becoming a net exporter of oil, and apply it to rare earth minerals — the same logic applies. We could try to find more areas with rare earth minerals here, but our better bet is looking outward, to asteroids, moons, and other planets.

To underscore how important this one area is by itself, Milton Ezrati, a senior contributor at Forbes, noted that rare elements are a new front in the trade war with China:

[China] has threatened to limit the flow of rare earth elements. Essential in all sorts of products from mobile phones to satellites, oil-drilling equipment to defense hardware, rare earth materials are important, and Beijing’s threat is not an idle one. China controls some 80% of the world’s rare earth production. The United States imports some $160 billion of these materials from China each year.

Space exploration could also help us find new minerals and metals that the Earth has never seen. It’s exploration — you don’t always know what you’ll find. Other moons and planets could also have stores of water we could use to alleviate shortages in nations across the globe.

There are countless new things we will learn in advancing technology to the point of being able to mine resources from entities in space. Sadly, the asteroid mining movement has stalled — which is why we need to push that sector forward.

Space exploration is a vital component of America’s long term greatness. Rekindling that drive to space — Making Space Exploration Great Again — should be a top priority.

It’s not a romanticized notion of exploration in play; space holds the key to the long term health of American hegemony and the spread of freedom and liberty abroad. We need to push beyond space stations and orbital experiments and go back to our exploration roots.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.