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Grant Bosse: In space, no one can hear you go bankrupt

By GRANT BOSSE
August 13. 2018 11:27PM


SPACE: The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Trump. It’s four-year mission: To run up the national debt faster than Barack Obama, to start stupid feuds that force everyone to pick sides, to boldly grope where no one has groped before.

Vice President Mike Pence last week unveiled the latest pipe dream from the Trump administration: Space Force!

If you’re dreaming of adventures among the stars, don’t quit your job at your aunt and uncle’s moisture farm just yet. Space Force probably isn’t happening. Congress has already shelved a proposal for a new branch of the military to deal with space-based threats. And Trump failed to make the case for such a venture, making it appear nothing more than a childish boondoggle.

I grew up as a NASA junkie, though I was born just a few months before our final trip to the Moon. By the time I was old enough for my dad to tell me about the adventures of Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong, our ambitions had largely been pulled back into Earth’s orbit.

I was 8 years old when I got up early on a Sunday morning to watch the Space Shuttle Columbia’s first flight. I was in 8th grade when Christa McAuliffe and her Challenger crewmates “slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God.”

I was elated by pictures beamed to us from the surface of Mars, and crushed when the shuttle program was shut down in 2011. If President Trump were to undertake a serious revitalization of the U.S. space program, I would be his biggest cheerleader.

Space Force isn’t that. Like most of Trump’s ideas, this one is big, bold, and mostly bluster. The White House has done a lousy job explaining what the Space Force would do and why we need it.

Currently, our space-based military assets are largely under the Air Force Space Command, though the satellite capability of our intelligence agencies is classified. Pulling those functions away from the Air Force, along with small scraps of space programs from other agencies, is not a new idea.

New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith published a paper titled, “The Challenge of Space Power” in the Spring 1999 edition of Airpower Journal in which he argued for a much larger commitment to space warfare.

We certainly have national security interests in space that are worth defending. The military relies on the Global Positioning System, as well as satellites for communications and reconnaissance. China and Russia have missiles that could take out those satellites. Iran and North Korea probably don’t have that capability, yet.

Taking down America’s satellite network would not only hamper our armed forces, but cause widespread economic damage. That does not begin to account for the fear and anxiety that would come from losing our phone and TV connections in an instant.

Yet defending these satellites would not necessarily require a full-scale reorganization of our current space-based military programs, nor the creation of an independent branch of the military. The first battle Space Force would fight would be a turf war against the Air Force.

Any significant expansion of the space program would be welcomed by aerospace contractors, and in line with Trump’s view of stimulating the economy through manufacturing. But that money would have to come from somewhere.

Congress has managed to rack up $21 trillion in debt, with $1 trillion annual deficits stretching out before us. I don’t see it paring back current programs to pay for more rockets.

That’s too bad. I want us to protect Earth’s orbit as much as the U.S. Navy keeps the oceans free for trade and travel. I’d like to explore the solar system, mine the asteroid belt, and terraform Mars. But we can’t afford it.

Space Force is easy to ridicule because the Trump White House is, well, ridiculous. But behind it is a serious idea to tackle a serious problem. We simply lack the serious people to get it done. Without such maturity, Space Force will remain a brash, empty promise.

Only once we get America’s fiscal house in order can we ensure that the U.S. space program lives long, and prospers.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at gbosse@unionleader.com and follow him on Twitter @grantbosse.


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