America Must Retake Lead in Space Exploration

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

Space… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the American people. Its permanent mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no American has gone before.

The above homage to the opening lines of the real Star Trek, the one where an American from Iowa was the captain, may seem odd at a time when the majority of the country is concerned about gas prices and mortgages, and those that are paying attention to events outside their hometown are focused on Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear program. However, it is precisely at this time that a call for American primacy in space must be made.

Last Friday, December 7, marked two anniversaries that are locked together by fate and destiny. It was the 40th anniversary of the last manned mission to the Moon and the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Should we neglect the space race, the threat of another such attack looms large. Much was made in 2009 when America went back into space with the Ares I-X rocket. However, unless the United States is serious about being a space-faring people, this will be a mere sideshow experiment.

In January of 2004, President Bush called for a “renewed spirit of discovery” where America would again take the lead as the primary space-faring people. “We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon, and to prepare for new journeys to worlds beyond our own.” This sentence hearkened back to the 1962 when Americans were challenged by President Kennedy to take their civilization and values to the stars. The fundamental piece of President Bush’s speech was the American commitment to manned space exploration, with a near term goal of a manned mission to Mars. This may have been missed by the media or popular culture, but it is the salient point. America needs not only to lead technologically; it needs to lead by example through a robust space exploration program with astronauts.

The 10 member Augustine Commission reported in 2009 a pessimistic scenario of the space program, being limited to near earth asteroid exploration and to “gravitationally significant” points in space, known as Lagrange points. This will do nothing to inspire the generations of Americans alive now and in the future.

It is time for President Obama to call for Americans to rise up to the challenge posed by President Kennedy. This cannot be done on the budget of $18.7 billion dollars, equating to a paltry .48 percent of the federal budget. We are spending less on the most essential aspect of America’s future than we did on the automobile industry bailout. This fiscal absurdity occurs while we are forced to hitchhike into space on Russian rockets. The spending on the space program will determine whether or not America will lead in space, create the next advances in medicine, receive the benefits from space technology and be able to dominate the next battlefield. Whether we like it or not, the militarization of space is inevitable. The question is not if, but when. The civilization that is first past the post here will be first past the post permanently. There is nothing short of American superpower status at stake. The country that dominates space and space exploration will also have the most vibrant and dynamic economy, the most advanced, high-paying jobs, and a technological edge that is second to none. It is a national security and economic imperative, where anything else palls in comparison. It is up to the president to explain to the American people how the need is more than ever, not less. It is up to the president to place it squarely and fully in the context of the economic crisis, not shy from it.

The president should make both an ideological and practical case for the space program. On the ideological side he needs to hearken back to President Kennedy demanding that America and Americans must lead this human endeavor, that the banner of freedom and democracy must be at the forefront, and that it is not only our challenge, but our duty and responsibility. If not us, who? If not now, when? On the practical side he needs to make the national security and economic case in stark and clear terms. The cost of both, for another power to supersede us, would be catastrophic at every level. The one presidential candidate who understood this concept, Newt Gingrich, and was serious about space and its ultimate role in national security, technology, and economics, was unjustly mocked.

There are specifics that should be stressed. First, NASA must be given the flagship duty again. It must be NASA, not the private sector, as an arm of the American government, representing the American people, that explores the final frontier. NASA needs to have the resources, backing, and support of the White House. This needs to be public and overt. The first manned exploration beyond the Moon must be under a NASA aegis. Second, a firmer commitment to manned exploration must be made. The dalliance with probes and robotics is fine for the purpose to advance manned exploration, not the other way around. Third, there must be real commitment to build the space elevator, the result of which would be to reduce the cost of putting weight into space from $10,000 dollars per pound to $100.00. This could be operational within 15 years with a cost of $10 billion. It is the linchpin to future space exploration, a permanent lunar base of operations, future space mining concepts, and a fully comprehensive space based missile defense. Fourth, promote the development of a real starship (perhaps based on fusion technology) instead of single use rockets, or limited use shuttles. Although the technology is not there yet, the promotion of this in a “Kennedy-esque” manner might generate new ideas and concepts that could advance our understanding. Fifth, inspire the American people to promote the space program, the heroism of NASA, the necessity of space exploration, and tie our future to it.

The space program, and manned space exploration in specific, are the keys to America’s future, not only as a global superpower, but as the leading economy. The two cannot be separated, and neither of them will have a future without America leading the way, now, not in some murky future. It is precisely because of the economic downturn, the threats posed by other great powers and rogue states, that this is the time for such a clarion call. This time needs to be capitalized on, to advance the real need for a renewed American commitment to space. The country that makes this commitment will be the country with a secure future.

We should all take the words of the last American on the moon, Eugene Cernan, to heart : “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.” Replace the United Nations

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

Living in a city like Vienna, one feels as if one is in a living museum. Vienna was not only the final redoubt for European civilization in 1683, but was the heart of the system that governed international relations from 1815 to 1914, known as the Congress of Vienna. The Vienna of today, exemplifies much of what ails European foreign policy and trans-Atlantic relations: the lack of a dynamic goal and a failure to build upon roots that made the civilization great. The European Union is in disarray, and NATO is searching for a redefinition. This is happening while the United States has made no clear signal as to the future of Atlanticism, NATO, or leading the West.

The world has emerged from the so called post-Cold War era transitioning through three phases of American leadership. Phase I under the Bill Clinton presidency illustrated national security and foreign policy drift. Phase II under President George W. Bush exemplified clear national and global goals driven by events in the Middle East and Central Asia. Phase III under the Barack Obama administration is similar to Phase I, but has embraced a policy of “leading from behind.” Meanwhile, the world’s geopolitical situation has shown signs of three major threats that will require a new international order. These threats are a resurgent Russia, a rising China, and the waning and waxing fortunes of Islamic extremism. This does not count the numerous middle level and low level threats that dot the international landscape. The successful Pax Romana and Pax Britannica were much more triumphant than the multipolar order making attempts such as the Congress of Vienna or Versailles Treaty. The most successful international order maker has consistently been the United States and the Pax Americana. In order to ensure the continuance of international stability many strategic decisions must be made. One of these decisions concerns the future of American international leadership: A dynamic international system must rise to meet these challenges, a system where the United States spearheads the creation of an amplification of NATO by fostering the D.A.N—Democratic Alliance of Nations.

The United Nations, an attempt by leaders like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to inject some realism into the failed League of Nations by creating five policemen has failed. It has failed to create stability and order except in those instances backed by the use or threat of American force. The current situation in the United States is one of war weariness and fear of over extension. The president will need to gain electoral support for America’s preeminence in world affairs. A new organization, one that has credibility with the American people, could go a long way to solving all of these issues. This new dynamic organization could go by many monikers; the one used here is the D.A.N. The Democratic Alliance of Nations would model itself on NATO, and if successful could replace NATO and cease the endless bickering about the future of that historically critical organization. The basic essence of NATO would remain; this would include a supreme commander that would be an American, a rotating political head, and Article 5 would serve as a similar trigger for action. However, there would be some drastic differences as well. Only nations that were willing to employ proportional military force (not token support) would be allowed membership. The Article 5 style trigger of “an attack on one is an attack on all” would be broadened. These triggers would have to include preemptive and preventative threats, as well as a mechanism to deal with genocide, massive human rights abuses, regional despotism, rogue states, and failed states. Further, there would have to be a clear mandate that military force would and could be used under these trigger conditions. This does not mean that military force would be the first or only option; but unlike the Security Council, it would be a viable coalition response. Critical to the composition of the Democratic Alliance of Nations would be that membership be reserved for only true democracies. This would be subject to scrutiny of the founding members and include such benchmarks as working democratic constitutions; the real rule of law; a vibrant civil society; the full protection of private property; and obedience to natural law. The foundation of the organization would have to start in the Anglo sphere (United States/United Kingdom/Canada/Australia/New Zealand) which would bring in elements of both NATO and ANZUS. Membership would hopefully be expanded to states such as (but not only) those in Western and Central Europe, Israel, South Korea, and Japan. Obviously, it goes without saying that some of these nations would need to make fundamental changes in their foreign policy legal mechanisms and even political culture.

It would therefore be through the Democratic Alliance of Nations that the United States could lead the free world in a dynamic 21st century, as it had through the tribulations of the 20th. It would further the security of the United States and the American people, and would serve as a way to illustrate to the electorate that the United States is not forced to act alone nor bear the only burden. It would further enhance the political and economic connections of members for stronger ties and bonds.