Nationalist Policies Spreading To The Stars
The galaxy is in the midst of colonization. Plans for a lunar space station are under way for the federal republic. Development is spearheaded under the command of ruthless US President, Donald Trump.
This may sound like the plot of the next Star Wars film. But it is much closer to the reality of international politics in space. Was George Lucas a prophet of inter-planetary relations? Or does history tell us national competition is the fuel for space exploration?
Recent announcements by NASA revel plans to build a space station around the orbit of the Moon. If achieved, it would be a significant milestone in the exploration of space travel. But also presents a stark contrast to collaborative approach to space exploration and research since 1998.
The International Space Station
The majority of space transportation and research since 1998 has all gone through the International Space Station (ISS).
The International Space Station launched in 1998 through collaboration between 5 principle countries and 18 participating countries. The ISS is spearheaded by five space agencies for across the globe: NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (European Union), and CSA (Canada).
The ISS has seen as many as 230 visiting astronauts from 18 participating countries since it began operation in Earth’s orbit. The station has been continuously occupied for 17 years and 179 days since the arrival of Expedition 1 in 2000. This first Expedition to the ISS featured a three-man crew. Lead by commander William Shepard a former US Navy Seal along with two Russian astronauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.
“The International Space Station (ISS) Program’s greatest accomplishment is as much a human achievement as it is a technological one—how best to plan, coordinate, and monitor the varied activities of the Program’s many organizations.”
US Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
In a move that looks to separate the US from international space collaboration, NASA has announced intentions to withdraw from the ISS program in favor of establishing a new station in the stars. NASA has reviled plans to build a base orbiting Earth’s Moon. This was announced as part of NASA’s 2019 budget proposal. The space agency is planning to spend as much as 504 million US dollars in taxpayer money to develop what it will call a “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway”.
According to the 2019 NASA budget, the American portion of ISS is being funded until 2025. After which it will presumably make room in the US NASA budget for development of the “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway”.
A lunar space station separate from the soon to be defect ISS would fall in line with Donald Trumps national strategy to completely militarize space. Back in March of 2018, Donald Trump made remarks to an audience of Marines at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, California recognizing space as a “war-fighting domain”.
Since Trumps inauguration he has strongly favored nationalist policy’s regarding trade, immigration, and now even space.
Trump isn’t the only one thinking about space, his counter-parts across the pond in Moscow have the stars on their horizon as well. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, also seem to be planning beyond the International Space Station.
According to sources acquired by BBC and The Moscow Times – Russia has intentions to continue funding operation of ISS through 2024. After 2024 Russia’s space strategy is unclear. Proposals have been introduced using Russia’s contributions to the ISS to build a new Russian space station titled Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK). Once funding for the international program draws to a close. OPSEK would be Russia’s very own modular space station in Earth’s orbit. This proposed station would allow Russia its own research center and checkpoint in space between inter-planetary travel missions.
There has been much speculation from Russian organizations and analysts regarding the feasibility of such a proposal. There has been no official announcement by the Russian space program to develop such plans. But it would be naïve to think the Russians don’t have something up their sleeve when it comes to space. Signs show they at least thought about plans post-ISS.
Proposals for OPSEK predate NASA’s 2018 announcements to develop it’s “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway”. Since as early as 2004, Russian space officials have floated around these plans. These ideas could form part of a future network of stations supporting manned exploration of the Solar System.
Budding Space Ambitions Of The Far East
It is safe to say the US and Russia have the most advanced space programs in the world. Nations in the Far East have not let this deter them from developing their own space programs.
For the past decade China, Japan, and India have all been successfully launching exploration missions far into the solar system. Back in 2014, India launched a probe called “Maven” to Mars that measured methane gas, a marker for life on the planet.
Indian and Japanese collaboration in space technology has dramatically grown during this time frame. Back in 2017 the two countries agreed to cooperate on a variety of areas including “earth observation, satellite based navigation, space sciences and lunar exploration.”
Far east nations are still determining how to frame their national interests in outer space. With less developed space programs than US or Russia, their approaches promote more global cooperation.
Then there is China, which faces ongoing exclusion from the International Space Station (ISS). None-the-less, China has been going forward with unmanned rover missions to the moon since 2013. Similar to the US’s unmanned rover mission to Mars.
Through these mission the Chinese space program claims to have “the most complete” imagery and mapping of the Moon. Take that for what you will. But don’t expect to find China’s Moon photography floating on the Internet anytime soon.
Space History Repeats Itself?
In many ways the nationalization of space will certainly lead to increased competition. Not to say competition is all bad. One upmanship during the 1960s between Russia and US ignited the space ambitions of the entire world.
The former Soviet Union kicked off the era of space exploration launching Sputnik 1, the first satellite in 1957. It followed up that milestone by sending the first man in to space. In 1961 the spacecraft Vostok 1 sent Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin into Earth’s orbit. The first time such a feat was ever achieved.
The early lead by the Soviet Union in the space race (by putting the first man and satellite into Earth’s orbit) motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the Congress in 1961 to commit to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. This initiative effectively launched the Apollo program. Lead by NASA, the Apollo 11 mission put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969.
While national competition in space exploration could help spur technological advancement, akin to the space race during the 1960s. There is also reason for concern over the growing militarization of space. As national militaries vie for strategic inter-planetary operation. These efforts could lead to national security issues back here on Earth.
At this pace, international space relations can be summarized as a race to build the Death Star.