Two NASA astronauts had barely taken off from the Kennedy Space Center when the achievement was already being politicized back on Earth. To the Trump campaign, it was an opportunity to blast Joe Biden and the Chinese government.
NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, en route to the International Space Station in a capsule developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation.
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The launch marks the first time since 2011 that NASA has sent astronauts into space from American soil, and the first time in history that a private company has sent humans into space.
Back on terra firma, the momentous occasion quickly took on a political dimension. “As our astronauts set to launch a U.S. rocket from US soil, it’s important that we’re not relying on Russia for a ride to space anymore,” Brad Parscale, President Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, tweeted.
As our astronauts set to launch a U.S. rocket from U.S. soil, it’s important that we’re not relying on Russia for a ride to space anymore.
Also key, @JoeBiden wants CHINA to be a “full partner” in space exploration & doesn’t want them to feel like a “new entrant” behind the U.S.
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) May 30, 2020
Indeed, American astronauts have relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to get to space since 2011. Before leaving Earth behind, the Americans would have to journey to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was from here that the Soviet Union beat the US by launching Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, and Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight.
With one Cold War closed, however, Parscale didn’t hesitate to stoke the flames of another.
“@JoeBiden wants CHINA to be a ‘full partner’ in space exploration & doesn’t want them to feel like a ‘new entrant’ behind the US,” he added.
Biden’s space policy is the stuff of mystery. While Trump promised to restart space flight and pushed for the establishment of the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, Biden has been relatively quiet on interstellar matters. However, in 2008, he told Nature magazine that he “wants to make China a full partner in space exploration, rather than a frustrated new entrant that had to catch up to the United States.”
Such talk may have passed unnoticed in 2008, but China has since become America’s ‘Public Enemy’. Trump has raged at Beijing for its alleged complicity in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, threatening to “cut off the whole relationship” with China, whatever that means. Moreover, the Pentagon already treats China as a military adversary, while a White House policy document released last week stated that the US is now engaged in “long-term strategic competition” with Beijing, and will orient its diplomatic and military efforts thusly.
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Space exploration was a matter of national pride during the Cold War, with the USA and USSR trumpeting each victory as proof of the superiority of their political systems. Yet it also had a military component, and space launch capability was closely related with ballistic missile capability. The “Cold War 2” – as Florida Senator Rick Scott called the current period of competition with China – has similar undertones. Both the US and China have tested anti-satellite weapons, while the Pentagon warned last year that Beijing is increasingly focused on the “weaponization of space.”
However, as Trump unveiled the Space Force’s new flag at a ceremony in the White House earlier this month, he left no doubt about the purpose of the new military branch, boasting about the state-of-the-art hardware under development at the Pentagon, including a mysterious “super duper missile.”
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