On May 30, U.S. space agency NASA in partnership with Tesla CEO Elon Musk's other company, SpaceX, sent two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), the multinational space laboratory in Earth's orbit.
Much has been made of the public-private partnership represented by SpaceX playing such a prominent role. In fact, U.S. companies have always manufactured vehicles for NASA. For example, the firms North American Rockwell and U.S. Northrop Grumman constructed the launch vehicles for the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, where the spacecraft was planned to land on Moon but the mission was aborted when an oxygen tank failed. Rockwell was also the main builder of the ill-fated Columbia, the first shuttle to reach space in 1981 but which disintegrated before returning to Earth in 2003, tragically killing its seven-member crew and ending U.S. launches of manned vehicles until this day. Private firms were also there throughout for the incredible successes, including lunar landings and a host of other major accomplishments in outer space.After the Columbia tragedy, the U.S. relied on Russian launch services to send crew to the ISS, jointly built and used by NASA and the space agencies of Russia (Roscomsos), Japan (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Europe (European Space Agency-ESA) and Canada (Canadian Space Agency). This project was possible only in the mid-1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and despite the ups and downs in U.S.-Russia relations, it has served as a powerful example of international cooperation despite revealing to former enemies highly sensitive technology.
To date, more than 240 people from at least 19 countries have spent time at the ISS. However, no Chinese have been allowed to visit the station. Despite a brief window in 2010 when the ESA director proposed China be allowed to join the ISS, the U.S. has consistently blocked this from happening. In 2011, it passed legislation making it illegal for NASA to cooperate with China on space projects.
That same year, China launched its first space lab, Tiangong-1, followed by Tiangong-2 in 2016. The first module of a new station is expected to be launched in 2021.
U.S. space force
During the coldest days of the Cold War in the 1980s, soon after U.S. President Ronald Reagan was reelected in 1984, the Space Command was established to lead U.S. space-related military interests. In 2002, however, with the Cold War over and the U.S. instead focusing on the "war on terror," the command was dissolved, with its functions absorbed by various military units.
In 2019, however, President Donald Trump reestablished the command, with supporting legislation signed that year and complemented with the creation of a new branch of military, the U.S. Space Force. With these two components now in place, American hawks have scored major steps toward advancing war-fighting capabilities in space. However, these seem to be steps backward and not forward. While onward and outward has always represented a future-oriented humanity, the new militarization of space along national lines once more projects destructive practices in ways and places where such foolishness should be transcended. This path appears especially ominous, given the growing U.S.-China tensions and perhaps even a Cold War 2.0, and overlaps with a new arms race emerging between ISS partners Russia and the U.S., in tandem with the duo abandoning arms control treaties while developing new war-making technologies.
This follows, unfortunately, an executive order signed by Trump in April, also contrary to longstanding international treaties, that allows U.S. companies to claim and exploit mineral rights on Moon and other astral bodies.
And all of this transpires while the Trump administration blames China for the world's problems, claims that the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) constituted a deliberate attack on American worse than Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and has repeatedly asserted, contrary to evidence, that these actions form part of a larger Beijing-led conspiracy to export Marxism and communism globally and rule the world.