Miriam Kramer, in the pages of Mashable, published a piece with the provocative title of “Sorry, Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter if the U.S. is ‘first’ in Space.” The actual content of the article is a little more complicated than that and contains a number of misconceptions, strawmen, and errors in fact.

Kramer’s real premise is that the United States can no longer “go it alone” in space, as it did with the Apollo program and the development of the space shuttle. That is a strawman this as this news is more than 30 years out of date since none other than President Ronald Reagan invited a number of American allies, including the European Union, Japan, and Canada to join in the construction of the International Space Station.

Later, President Bill Clinton invited post-Cold War Russia to join in the decade’s long space project.

Now the misconception. No one seriously questioned that the United States was not first in space just because it had allies in building and operating the ISS. To suppose that is to assume that the United States was not a superpower just because it was part of the NATO alliance.

The error of fact, or at least a failure to get the point, is that national competition in space is over. Kramer wrote, “But, we aren't racing another country back to the moon or to Mars today.” Well, perhaps we should be.

Russia, China, and the European Union all have lunar aspirations. The United States could and likely should form a return to the moon alliance with Europe. Russia and China have reverted to imperialist behavior on Earth and are human rights abusers besides. Going back to the moon or to Mars with either country could turn awkward if war breaks out in the South China Sea or the Baltic States.

The question arises, should there be a nationalistic element in space exploration.

To answer the question, one comes to a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev convened with his military and aerospace experts in the wake of President Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech in which he proposed to make nuclear missiles obsolete with a space-based defense system. He posed the question: Can the Americans do this? The unanimous answer was: Yes they can. They landed a man on the moon.

The assessment led to a chain of events that resulted in the fall of the Soviet Union. Neil Armstrong’s small step led to the end of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction.

As an aside, it doesn’t matter if the American astronauts who pave the way back to the moon and on to Mars work for NASA or a private company like SpaceX or Moon Express. One can bring honor and glory to one’s country even if one is not in the employ of the government. Indeed, considering the superiority of free market capitalism, it would be delicious if the next space explorers work for the commercial sector.

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