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SpaceX launch is step one in a new American-dominated space race

SpaceX launch is step one in a new American-dominated space race
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Congratulations to SpaceX for successfully launching their Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on its first test flight. Where’s it going? Beyond Mars, carrying Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, and the hopes and dreams of the space community.

The Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful operational rocket in the world, and one of most powerful in history. It can launch a payload of over 140,000 pounds to low earth orbit and 37,000 pounds to Mars — the car didn’t stress it at all.

This was an important success for SpaceX, which currently launches commercial satellites, cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and next year intends to launch American astronauts to the space station, and it was an a great demonstration of American ingenuity and determination.

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Reusable rockets like the Heavy and Falcon 9 are already cutting launch costs, and to date, their reliability appears as good as with new rockets. Two out of the three boosters on this rocket were re-used, and two of the three boosters survived the return for re-use. Elon Musk once described the cost difference at a briefing I attended in 2011 this way: Imagine if every time you flew on an airplane, the airline threw away the airplane, how much do you think the flight would cost?

What’s all this mean for the space industry and policy makers? SpaceX says they have four commercial launches lined up for the Heavy, and following this successful test, satellite operators can confidently build larger and higher-powered satellites, NASA could use it to send larger unmanned probes to Mars and other planets, and it can even launch commercial or NASA space stations. Looking ahead, Falcon Heavy can send cargo to the surface of the Moon or Mars, and with refueling, perhaps astronauts as well.

The National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNorth Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at Olympics Judicial order in Flynn case prompts new round of scrutiny The CIA may need to call White House to clarify Russia meddling MORE, is conducting a full review of our civilian and military space programs, and one of their priorities will be how to best utilize the capabilities of new space enterprises, such as SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s new and upcoming rockets, and establish the correct balance between the Saturn V-class Space Launch System, which can directly land astronauts on the Moon and Mars, and the somewhat smaller rockets from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

While SpaceX scored a major success with Falcon Heavy, continued delays by both SpaceX and Boeing have pushed commercial crew service to ISS from 2015 to 2019 or even 2020, forcing continued reliance on single-sourced Russian launch services at ever-escalating prices.

This crew launch delay highlight the challenges the Trump administration and Congress must face: If we don’t make a new and serious commitment to maintaining our leadership in space exploration, we could lose the new and very real space race to the Moon and Mars to China.

Some are proposing that NASA spends the next decade or longer building the “Deep Space Gateway,” a mini-space station that would orbit the Moon, but this would be a strategic mistake and detour from what NASA should do starting in the early 2020s: Build a Lunar surface base with commercial and ISS partners, and with lessons learned, go to Mars in the 2030s.

The Gateway would be merely spectator seating to watch China build their Lunar surface base. This matters, because if China doesn’t intend to claim the Moon as their territory, they are setting a poor example in trying to seize the international waters and sovereign territories in the South China Sea, in violation of 400 years of freedom of the seas and the Law of the Sea Convention.

A Lunar surface base would become a hub of entrepreneurship, and with the participation of all stakeholders — NASA and both established and new space industries, would help propel our high tech economy to new heights.

Let the Falcon Heavy launch rekindle the spirit that got Americans to the Moon, and to unite all stakeholders to create a roadmap to get us to the Moon and Mars as soon as possible — and Congress must do its part by approving the necessary funding.

Bravo to SpaceX, its visionary founder, Elon Musk, and the thousands of employees who made this week’s test launch an awesome success. Only in America would a rocket company launch a car to outer space as a test, and Elon Musk’s car might orbit the sun for a billion years.

Art Harman is the director of the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration and served as the legislative director and space advisor for Rep. Steve StockmanStephen (Steve) Ernest StockmanSpaceX launch is step one in a new American-dominated space race McConnell must go nuclear: Abolish the legislative filibuster Ex-GOP staffer pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering on behalf of ex-lawmaker MORE (R-Texas) in the 113th Congress. He is an expert on foreign affairs, border security, space and other key issues. Harman studied foreign policy at the Institute of World Politics.