The RESTORE Act is a smart step to restore American space leadership

The ISS has sustained the United States for nearly two decades. But now, the United States must protect and defend its precious space assets. And Congress must strengthen the ability of the United States to detect ‘hostile acts’ in space with new policy framework

By Brett Perlmutter, Aerospace Research Association, and Melinda Jose, Sherri D. Johnson, Kjell-Lin Evensen, Curtis A. Dukes, Richard J. Blum, and Thomas W. Donnelly

Melinda Jose, Cassidy, and Co-Chairs, bipartisan and bicameral

In this November, the most important political time of the year, it is particularly important to acknowledge the significance of space as an equal partner in our economy and society. Space, as seen from the inner polar regions, or the flat, cold earth, can often be unsettlingly dull. But, for those who work at NASA or observe, those years of loneliness can be the best ones in space when you appreciate the pure geologic values of the place. This is why we should all be pleased to see Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduce bipartisan legislation with overwhelming bi-partisan support that should enable U.S. astronauts to live, work, and explore in space again.

The RESTORE Act is a logical complement to the $60B plan developed in the bipartisan bipartisan authorization act for the SLS and Orion capsule that sets forth the pathway for America to return to exploration in the next decade, after decades of space travel that never ended. In the absence of a lunar base or other locations to conduct experiments on, the RESTORE Act will prepare U.S. astronauts to work in space on NASA’s missions to establish habitation and advanced staging systems on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023. Space travel is different than manufacturing, which Boeing, SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are already doing. Developing rocket engines, water and vacuum habitats, as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have done, will be challenging and expensive. This program will expand the American space industry and provide ongoing civilian revenues to the government.

The RESTORE Act offers space industry support and service contracts for rocket engine development, spacecraft, parachutes, improved antennas and other critical national security and economic infrastructure services in space. As NASA administrator, I was proud to sign the bill into law after we celebrated our first-ever docking of the International Space Station in 2000.

Just because there is an infinite world beyond our planet, however, does not mean we are destined to continue to look down on the rocky landscape. Instead, we should recognize space is as close as we are going to get to a planet without resources. Like walking on the moon, a return to space is the equivalent of an interim step.

Launching a new exploration program will be a political issue. There will be fence-sitters who will claim the cost for ongoing support is an unfunded mandate. But, as noted, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Sen. Peters introduced a supplemental appropriations bill which expands funding to develop the rocket engine for the next mission, work associated with the 2016 measure of the authorization act and infrastructure in space.

Tackling the issue now and in appropriations bills will not require a major fight in the lame duck. A “donut hole” in the next budget year for such appropriations demonstrates that we can focus on long-term solutions. This “reset,” combined with our military readiness commitments to other elements of the national security infrastructure, is the right move for our national security.

Thomas W. Donnelly is an Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, George Washington University, and the President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

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