VAN VOORHIS: Keep the International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is the sole orbiting laboratory for human spaceflight, whose missions have allowed America to remain the leading space program in the world. In an era where American superiority on the global stage is more critical than ever, it would be a mistake to prematurely end federal funding for the space station until a suitable alternative is up and running.

One of the leading proponents of this initiative has been Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has come out strongly against proposals to defund the ISS as a waste of taxpayer money that would give China or Russia opportunities to assert superiority in outer space.  

According to The Hill, “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is blasting a proposal to end funding for the International Space Station (ISS) and vowing to fight for the program. Cruz told representatives from NASA that lawmakers were united behind the program during a hearing Wednesday on the ‘Future of the International Space Station’ before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. ‘Nowhere in federal statute is there a request from Congress seeking a hard deadline to end federal support for ISS,’ said Cruz, the subpanel’s chairman.”

Cruz stated additionally that, “Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars. We cannot afford to continue to pursue policies that have consequences of creating gaps in capability, that send $3 1/2 billion in taxpayer money to the Russian government, or that create a leadership vacuum in low-earth orbit that provides a window of opportunity for the Chinese to capitalize on it.’ Cruz said China would have a manned space station by 2022.”

Cruz is right. It would be a mistake to risk American superiority in outer space, when we have foreign adversaries who would be more than happy to replace us.

If there were a suitable private sector alternative that would free up NASA to work on new space investments, then the proposal to end federal funding of the ISS would sound more reasonable. However, no such plan currently exists. To cut funding without a waiting alternative to government would be irresponsible.

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin recently shared his feelings on the issue, telling Congress that,

“The scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation gives us pause about the agency’s current plans. Any assumption that ending direct federal funding frees up $3–4 billion beginning in 2025 to use on other NASA exploration initiatives is wishful thinking.”

Republicans and Democrats alike would be wise to keep the International Space Station afloat, not just for cost-saving reasons, but also to sustain American leadership in space. It’s critical that we maintain this advantage continuing into the 21st century.

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