Trump’s Mission to Mars Needs Internationalism to Succeed

Original Kodak print of Apollo moon landing (From a private collection in Rochester. Photo of photo taken by George Cassidy Payne)

Original Kodak print of Apollo moon landing (From a private collection in Rochester. Photo of photo taken by George Cassidy Payne)

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George Payne

A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, George Cassidy Payne teaches philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College and is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International.

Along with his contributions to Talker, the Messenger Post Newspapers recently invited George to be a Guest Columnist. His most recent piece was George Payne: Health care defeat showcases magnitude of Trump’s incompetence, 3/30/17

NOTE: “Mission to Mars” was republished in the Daily Caller on 4/4/17

Trump’s Mission to Mars Needs Internationalism to Succeed

To begin with, Trump’s bold commitment to land humans on the Red Planet in the next 15 years is not his idea. In a 2016 Op-Ed, President Obama declared:

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

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Original Kodak print of Apollo moon landing (From a private collection in Rochester. Photo of photo taken by George Cassidy Payne)

This in no way diminishes the importance of Trump adopting his predecessor’s goal. After nearly three months of bludgeoning lunacy and shocking ineptitude from the White House, it was more than a little refreshing to hear Mr. Trump actually get behind an initiative that I can agree with. Here is what is happening.

With a room full of astronauts, technocrats, legislators, and journalists standing around him, the president authorized a new law that will allocate 19.5 billion in spending for NASA. This program includes landing people on the surface of Mars by 2033.  As Trump read:

For almost 6 decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine worlds and a better future right here on Earth…I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science, and technology.

This is a bipartisan, public-private partnership that will support the use of the international Space Station through 2024, enable a commercial space launch system, propel the Orion Space Craft, supply ongoing medical monitoring of astronauts, focus on deep space exploration, and do something that the human race has longed for since antiquity. As astronaut Sally Ride put it:

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Original Kodak print of Apollo moon landing (From a private collection in Rochester. Photo of photo taken by George Cassidy Payne)

Studying whether there’s life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there’s something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That’s something that is almost part of being human, and I’m certain that will continue.

Trump’s NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2024, will continue to satisfy our human quest for knowledge. It will take us beyond the outer realms of what we once thought possible. On this hope, if nothing else, it appears that both Obama and Trump fully grasp the symbolic, scientific, and soul lifting value of going to Mars.
 
That being said, it is necessary to point out that Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, the kind that has characterized the darkest elements of his candidacy, is simply irrelevant when talking about deep space exploration. There is no such thing as a unilateral national space program. Not any more.

The bottom line is that all space programs are international. The mathematics behind every equation involved in going to Mars is international. The technology needed to get there is international. In the end, the very pursuit of going there in the first place is a challenge that all humanity must embrace and solve. The achievement would be a milestone for the entire world.

Moreover, it does not make practical sense to pit one nation against another in a modern space race. Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said:

I have no desire to do a Mars landing on our own.. The U.S. cannot always be the leader, but we can be the inspirational leader through international cooperation in space exploration.”

The mission inevitably will be international, as will any future human landings on the moon, Bolden said, after all; “We already have gone there first.”

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Original Kodak print of Apollo moon landing (From a private collection in Rochester. Photo of photo taken by George Cassidy Payne)

And to state the obvious, space has been an international community for almost two decades. The International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998. It is the largest person constructed object in space and can be seen with the naked eye from the Earth. ISS is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft: the Russian Soyuz and Progress, the American Dragon and Cygnus, the Japanese H-11 Transfer Vehicle, and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle are frequent guests. It has been visited by astronauts, cosmonauts, and space tourists from 17 different countries.

Lastly, if Mr. Trump thinks that his mission will succeed without China, he should think again. The Chinese government has committed fully to its space program, seeing it as a means to secure global advantage.
 
China launched its first orbital space lab, a small module called Tiangong-1 (the name means “heavenly palace”), in 2011. The next big step will be the construction of a full-scale space station, due for completion around 2020.

Brian Harvey, author of the recent book China in Space writes:

They are very disciplined in not letting themselves be rushed. China is very conscious of its history. They’ve been doing rocketry since 1274, so what’s the hurry?”

In fact, the Chinese expect to complete their space station around the same time ISS runs out of funding.  If that happens, who will be in the driver seat then?

Still, I do not want to throw cold water on the president. Trump’s NASA initiative is the most ambitious, well meaning, and socially purposeful directive to come out of his White House so far. It has tremendous potential to not only increase human understanding of terrestrial life, geology, planetary science, medicine, and biotechnology; it also has the potential to galvanize our national commitment to STEM education, and to bring America into an international effort that can unite our collective species. As a humanitarian and lover of discovery, I hope this works. I really do.

But, let me be absolutely clear. Trump’s xenophobic and jingoistic “America First” mentality does not make sense when referring to NASA. Will Trump get on board and lead by following? Or will he try to make this about himself and fail once again like he did with the refugee travel ban, Russian hacking investigation and health care?

Interesting times indeed.

George Cassidy Payne

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