We Must Continue America’s Leadership in Space

Our nation has led the world in making the impossible possible. One example is our national space program and by extension, our emerging commercial space industry. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the Commercial Space Launch Act into law, making it the policy of the United States to open space to the American people and their private commercial, scientific, and cultural enterprises.

Upon signing the bill into law President Reagan stated, "One of the important objectives of my administration has been, and will continue to be, the encouragement of the private sector in commercial space endeavors."

Today, the Commercial Space Launch Act continues to have a profound impact in reshaping the future of human space exploration. In the near future, American astronauts and cargo will reach the International Space Station on commercial vehicles.

And in the not-so-distant future, each one of us may also have the opportunity to experience the weightlessness of space first-hand, thanks to the innovation and investment being made by private companies across the country who are leading a resurgence in the commercial space industry.

Where governments once reigned as the primary actors, private enterprise is now working on unlocking the future of human space exploration.

‘Reflects the needs,’ competition

This week, Congress carried President Reagan’s torch forward by passing the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which I authored as chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, along with my colleagues, Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Gary Peters D-Mich., Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. and House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican.

This bipartisan and bicameral legislation makes a commitment to supporting the continued development of a strong commercial space sector and recognizes that Texas has a major stake in space exploration.

The legislation soon will sit on President Barack Obama’s desk awaiting his signature to become law.

The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act reflects the needs of a changing and growing industry and aims to further encourage the competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space industry.

For example, this legislation extends the regulatory learning period for seven and a half years, which is the longest such extension in our country’s history. This provision will prevent the federal government from regulating the commercial space industry so that private companies can continue to mature, experiment, innovate and indicate readiness before the Department of Transportation can transition to a regulatory approach.

‘Property rights beyond Earth’

Another key component of this legislation is establishing property rights beyond Earth, throughout the cosmos. American companies are currently preparing to mine asteroids in the not-too-distant future. This legislation will help establish certainty and the environment for growth for a burgeoning industry in which a single asteroid could net trillions of dollars in platinum and other rare-earth metals.

I often say that what’s good for Texas is good for our nation, and there’s no better example than this legislation. Specifically, this legislation provides Houston’s Johnson Space Center and the International Space Station with nearly a decade of mission certainty by extending the operation and utilization of the International Space Station until 2024. This certainty signifies that the men and women at Johnson Space Center will continue to play a vital role in the future of manned spaceflight.

Commercial space exploration presents important new opportunities for us all. Our nation must continue to provide a framework in which the American people can innovate and create private commercial, scientific and cultural enterprises that can extend our reach throughout the cosmos.

Every one of us has looked up at the night sky and wondered what lies out there. With America’s renowned innovation and renewed commitment in commercial space exploration, the opportunities for discovery are limitless.

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle.


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