Mark Kelly's views on Space Force, NASA's Artemis return to the moon are problematic

Mark Kelly's views on Space Force, NASA's Artemis return to the moon are problematic
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Captain Mark KellyMark KellyPoll: Sinema approval higher among Arizona Republicans than Democrats Documentary to be released on Gabby Giffords's recovery from shooting Kelly pushes back on Arizona Democrats' move to censure Sinema MORE, a candidate for senator from the state of Arizona, has an impressive resume. He flew combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. He flew on the space shuttle four times, twice as a mission commander.

However, Kelly’s views on space policy, a subject with which he should be familiar given his former profession, are problematic.

Kelly opposed the creation of the United States Space Force. About two years ago, the former astronaut tweeted, “This is a dumb idea. The Air Force does this already. That is their job. What’s next, we move submarines to the 7th branch and call it the ‘under-the-sea force?’”

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The report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization that came out in January 2001 contradicts Kelly. The report concluded that the Air Force regarded space operations as secondary to its primary mission of waging war in the air. The report recommended the creation of a “Space Corps” within the Air Force and a separate military department to oversee space operations.

President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE and the United States Congress, on a bipartisan basis, created the Space Force because they recognized that space war had become distinct from air combat. With China and Russia creating weapons to strike at America’s space assets, the need for a separate service branch to deal with the threat became more apparent.

NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineBill Nye promotes infrastructure, social spending bills with Biden NASA can facilitate the commercial space station race SpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission MORE supported the Space Force’s establishment. NASA recently signed an agreement with the Space Force to cooperate in several areas of mutual interest, including “human spaceflight, U.S. space policy, space transportation, standards and best practices for safe operations in space, scientific research, and planetary defense.”

Kelly also opposes NASA’s Artemis return-to-the-moon program. The Daily Beast noted that he stated, “We should just go straight to Mars. Forget about the Moon. We’ve been there. We’ve already done that.”

The idea that the United States should abandon the moon because American astronauts visited there six times 50 years ago is laughable on its face. The moon not only contains a great many opportunities to do science, but it also contains valuable resources that could fuel a space-based industrial revolution. The international Artemis Alliance has already garnered a lot of political soft power for the United States.

The moon, according to an MIT study, can play a crucial role for human Mars missions. The lunar poles contain hundreds of millions of tons of water ice that can be refined into rocket fuel. A spacecraft headed for Mars, instead of taking all the fuel it needs directly from Earth, can top off in lunar orbit before proceeding on. Stopping by the moon would save 68 percent of the mass of a Mars ship, thus a great deal of launch costs.

Bridenstine has pointed out that the moon provides a venue just three days away to test Mars technology and exploration techniques. Mars is six months to a year away, so it would only be prudent to test on the moon first.

Why would Kelly, a former Navy aviator and astronaut, hold such views on space policy? His opposition to a separate Space Force and the Artemis lunar program seem to be from a mindset that is stuck in the past. Astronauts are not just going to head out to plant the flag, walk around alien worlds collecting rocks and return to ticker tape parades. They will go to those unknown places to stay, do science, start businesses, mine resources and create a space-based economy. The infrastructure that will be created on the moon, Mars, the asteroids and beyond will need defending against enemy action.

If Kelly is elected to the United States Senate, he will be just one of 100 senators. But because of his background, he will likely serve on committees overseeing the military and/or space policy. It would thus be a good thing if he became aware of the realities of space and military policy in the 21st century.

Not coincidentally, three former astronauts, Tom Stafford, Charlie Duke and Jack Lousma, have endorsed Kelly’s opponent, Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Business groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter MORE (R-Ariz.). The three did not mention Kelly’s views on space policy, but they did state, “Having ‘astronaut’ on your resume does not mean you’d be a good U.S. senator.” The assessment is certainly true because of the candidate’s opposition to the Space Force and the Artemis program.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration titled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.  He is published in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and The Washington Post, among other venues.