Space Policy Launching New Era of American Exploration

Tommy Preston, Jr.
Inspiration continues to drive aerospace in America, from Mars landings to sending NASA astronauts to the ISS on an American-made rocket.

Inspiration continues to drive aerospace in America, from Mars landings to sending NASA astronauts to the ISS on an American-made rocket.


Humanity’s ability to break gravity’s hold has inspired Americans for more than a century. It inspired Bill Boeing to expand upon the Wright Brother’s initial success to build a better airplane. It drove a generation of Americans, from the president down to the youngest child, to reach the moon.

American aerospace workers led the way throughout that journey, from early flights over Lake Union in Washington to nearly every NASA mission since the 1950s—Mercury and Apollo flights, the moon landing, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station (ISS). Their work coupled with a framework for achievement set by Congress and NASA launched America into space.

Now, the next generation of NASA and commercial astronauts are set to return to the moon and explore deep space for the first time. Recently, NASA, in partnership with Boeing, announced that Chris Ferguson, former Space Shuttle Commander and Boeing’s Director of Crew and Mission Operations, would help lead the way for a new generation of American astronauts on the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the ISS.

This breaks new ground for America’s space legacy. Since the Space Shuttle’s retirement, American astronauts traveling to the ISS were required to do so aboard a Russian spacecraft.

The new Starliner missions reverse that tide by launching an exciting new era in American space travel—one built on decades of NASA and Boeing human spaceflight experience with a maturing commercial space sector and regulatory processes that enable commercial spaceflight in the United States. With America’s return to the ISS on board an American spacecraft, it is more important than ever that Congress continue authorization and funding for the ISS and this new crew transportation service to encourage continued commercial development of the low Earth orbit.

Congress has taken the first steps to ensure a stable market in space by introducing legislation in both the House and Senate to extend ISS operations to 2030. There is bipartisan support for ISS extension because both parties agree that guaranteeing long-term American access to ISS on an American spacecraft is critical to our scientific research, medical advancement, and commercial innovation. Scientists living and working on the ISS conduct life-changing public and private research that benefits all Americans.

Additionally, the Trump administration acted in 2017 by issuing an executive order to reestablish the National Space Council—an entity formed during the height of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The Council is working to make recommendations to the president and Congress on issues related to national security threats, regulatory frameworks for private-sector engagement, space exploration for research purposes, among other priorities. As the president stated during the launch of the Space Council: “Space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation but our economy and our great nation’s security.”

The president has also proposed creating a military branch focused on protecting American interests in outer space. There continues to be debate around the creation of the entity, with Congress punting on the discussion last year, instead asking for an independent study on the issue.

With the Administration’s renewed focus on space and considerable commercial interests in space exploration, the country can expect numerous policy debates to take place in the coming years. Lingering questions regarding the privatization of space exploration, national security issues, environmental issues, property rights, and other geopolitical considerations, among others, will be at the forefront for policymakers.

Inspiration continues to drive aerospace in America, from Mars landings to sending NASA astronauts to the ISS on an American-made rocket. Aerospace workers cannot do it alone though. We need constancy of purpose as well as smart, innovative federal, state, and local policies that support research and development, strengthen workforce investments, and lay the foundation for the next generation of engineers.

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Tommy Preston, Jr.

Tommy Preston, Jr. is the chair of the Young Lawyers Division and Director, National Strategy & Engagement/Government Operations at The Boeing Company.