It may not feel like it, but the U.S. is in a race back to the moon again

I spoke with Ellis Brazeal and Brett Richards, both of whom are legal professionals within the space industry for the firm Jones Walker about the new race to ge...

Whether you know it or not, the U.S. is definitely in a new space race. The destination is the same, but the purpose is a little different. Russia. China and the states are looking to get back to the moon first to attempt to harvest the potential water located there. But that’s just one aspect of current affairs. To get a clearer picture, Federal News Network’s Eric White spoke with Ellis Brazeal and Brett Richards, both of whom are legal professionals within the space industry for the firm Jones Walker.

Interview Transcript:  

Ellis Brazeal I think you need to go back to the parties themselves, do the countries themselves consider that they’re in a space race? Well, if you go back to March of 2019, Vice President Pence came to Huntsville to the Marshall Space Flight Center. And he declared, you know, back when he was president of the National Space Council, which had been reinstituted under President Trump. And he came to Marshall, and he said, we’re going back to the moon. We’re going to have human boots on the moon by 2024. Well, let there be no mistake. They were in a race because one month later, the Chinese came out, the Chinese space agency came out and said, you know, we were going to the moon by the late 2030s. We’re now moving that up in about ten years. So, I think China is now saying that they’re going to be at the moon, and we’re both going to the South Pole, to the Shackleton crater. They believe that they’ll be there by 2030. And so, you know, are we going to get there before or not? I don’t know. Hopefully.

Eric White All right. And so, Brett the race is on, and you know, are you picking up what Ellis is putting down and you kind of see the same thing as, you know, that’s the finish line where things are heading towards right now?

Brett Richards Well, I mean, I think it’s always good to remember perceptions, reality of these things. Right? And so, while we are in a space race, do the American people actually know that. Right? If you went out and pulled ten guys off the street or went out street, right, would they know that we’re in a space race? I’m not so sure that we do. And so, I think that, you know, a good first step in my mind is to get Congress involved a little bit more, right? I mean, I’m a Capitol Hill guy. That’s what we talked about. And so, you know, currently there’s like about a handful of legislators who are really sort of driving space policy. Right. And that’s great. And they’re really good and committed and smart and know what they’re talking about. But that’s not the American public. And to get anything past, you know, any sort of policy moving forward, it’s going to take a buy in from everybody.

Eric White Yeah Ellis, this space race doesn’t seem to have, and I wasn’t around back then, so forgive me for my ignorance. Doesn’t seem as if it has the same sort of stakes involved as the last one. What does a win look like to you? As Brett was just laying out, you know what he sees.

Ellis Brazeal Brett’s exactly on point about that. I mean, would the average person on the street think they were in a space race with China. Yeah, very few, presumably. And I was alive during the 60s. I was 8 when we set on the moon. And Kennedy is one of my favorite presidents because of his foresight in you know, going to the moon. And he did it because, you know, back in that period in time. Well, you know, Kennedy said we’re engaged in this tectonic struggle between the East and the West, between communism and anti-communism. And he wanted countries that were choosing whether to go with, you know, the democracy, style of government or communist form of government. Who were they going to ally with? He wanted to demonstrate our technological superiority. I don’t think we have that going on here. Well, and it was a matter of national pride, like Brett pointed out. I mean, that is huge for the American people. The thing about the Chinese space race is twofold. One it’s economic. So, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs predicts that by 2050, there will be $3 trillion in global revenues from a space-based economy. Now, that doesn’t just involve what we do on the moon, which is going to involve excavation of minerals that may have value back on Earth. That $3 trillion also includes, you know, space, space power and things like that. But space and who dominates space could really have significant economic considerations for our country going forward. And secondly, both from an economic standpoint and then from a military standpoint, it will have security ramifications for our country, national security ramifications. And a good friend that retired from NASA who said, you know, there’s the old adage of the person with the high territory, the high land, has the benefit in any sort of military engagement. And he said, what’s higher than territory on the moon? So, I think from an economic, and then from a national security standpoint, it matters that to Brett’s point and to your point Eric, I don’t think that case it’s really been made to the American public.

Eric White All right. So, let’s revert it back to DC. And Brett, I’ll tap into your brain for this one. What can you know both branches of government involved in this both the legislative and executive branches, what can they do around to ensure that the US is best suited for this space race, even though it seems as if we may not be fully in one?

Brett Richards Well, I mean, I think that we are in one, right? And I don’t think the American people realize it. And so, I think having a candid conversation with the public is the first thing that we should do and let folks know. And then obviously, we’re going to need investment right where that comes in federal dollars that will be brainpower, to NASA, to Space Force. You mean you’re going to need sort of buy in right on the race. And then we need the plan, right? We need to know how we get out of here. Not about how do we win, right, and why we’re doing this. Is a benefit to the American society as a whole, right? And so, what can Congress do in the short term? But that’s not a long-term big picture, right? Short term, you know, I don’t see a whole lot going on. Right. They had a markup last November, I think, on the Commercial Space Act 2023. You know, it was a partisan vote, party line vote I should say. The parties did agree to come back to the negotiating table, right. And see where they can come through. I mean, what’s Congress going to do at all in 2024? Right? I don’t see a whole lot happening. And so, this is where it gets kind of tricky, where politics gets involved. Right? I don’t see this being on the campaign trail a whole lot. But any sort of legislation that gets any sort of play on the House floor, the Senate floor, everybody’s going to be talking about it, including the big elephant in the room, Donald Trump. Right? I mean, so, you know, what I don’t see much space, no pun intended, between the Biden and the Trump administration sort of goals here. But are we as the House and the Senate, are they going to make time on the actual legislative side of things to do this? I don’t see much happening in that regard. So long term we definitely have some work to do. Short term, I don’t see a whole lot happening. There’s just other stuff that people are more worried about right now and more involved in right. It doesn’t make it less important; it just makes it what it is. You know that’s just the way American politics goes.

Eric White We’re speaking with Brett Richards and Ellis Brazeal, who are both attorneys in the space realm, we can say with Jones Walker. And so, we’d be remiss to not include in this conversation about government involvement in, you know, making sure that things are safe for any new technologies the US would like to place. And there is the Space Force. What can you tell me about the support that the Space Force is now getting from Congress? Because, you know, there was kind of an idea of that most folks thought was kind of funny at first, but now it’s getting up there as one of the most important branches of the military side of government.

Brett Richards Yeah, you’re exactly right. I think it did kind of start off as like, wow, do we really need this type of deal? You know, it was during the Trump administration again, everything that came out of that administration as most things do in our American politics these days, kind of get looked at through that sort of prism. But one thing that I would like to point out, I think it’s important and it’s a small gesture, but it’s something that is worth noting. In the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 last year, where for FY 24, included a provision that established the legislative liaison Office of the Space Force. This might not sound like much, but it’s really important to see where it was before. Right. And so, the Space Force legislative lays out perhaps were with the Air Force underneath the Air Force team. And so, it doesn’t take rocket scientists to see why the Space Force will benefit from having its own formal relationship with Congress. And this goes back to our original point of being able to socialize these issues around Congress, right, without this formal relationship. Well, now that we have a formal relationship with Congress and the Space Force, the Space Force is able to tell their story. Right. And they prior, it was the Air Force that was having to tell the Space Force story. And you want to be the guy telling your story, right? You don’t want somebody else telling your story, particularly to the folks who are controlling policy and money, and all the other things that Congress does. So, you know, having this relationship started. It just passed last I think December was when it was signed into law. My understanding let’s focus on Capitol Hill. The legislative offices are actively being set up right now. And so, there’s a, there’s a real effort to get this formal understanding really moving so that that’s it. That’s a positive step in my opinion. Again, one that, it goes under the radar, right? Like legislative office, but it really is important for folks who are making the policy to be able to hear directly from Space Force themselves.

Ellis Brazeal I think I’ve got to throw one last thing in. I teach space law as an adjunct, and because I teach space law, we have to look at what’s going to happen on the moon once we get there. And so, both the US and China are headed towards the South Pole, towards the Shackleton crater, where there’s believed to be water ice, which they can, you know, we won’t have to haul water to the moon, if it’s there in the form of ice. We can also use it for industrial and other purposes. Well, whoever gets to the moon first, will get to set kind of international norms or public norms for how they conduct themselves. And one thing I didn’t realize until recently, I was talking to this lawyer at NASA. He’s at the technology office for NASA, and he’s a lawyer. And he said, look Ellis, when you land on the moon, it kicks up all the regolith. I’m sure you know the regolith. And it’s a real problem. It was for the Apollo astronauts. Well, I didn’t realize that once it gets kicked up, the regolith keeps circling the moon at high speed because there’s no atmosphere, you know, until it finally subsides due to gravity. So, people are going to set up safe zones to protect their activities from others. And they’re entitled to. But how big are those going to be? The US, I think, will set up reasonable, safe zones. That’s what’s envisioned under the Artemis Accords. China, on the other hand, is evidenced by, you know, their activities in the South China Sea, Antarctica, some other things. I’m not sure that they’ll act in the same way that we will. So, I think it’s important to get there first to set the international norms.

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