Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump likes to say that he's going to make America's space program "first" again. The details of his plan to make that happen are pretty much non-existent and he hasn't actually explained why NASA isn't "first" these days.
The fact is, it shouldn't matter if America is "first" in space or not. In fact, a go-it-alone strategy on space exploration would be a huge mistake.
alking about access to space as some kind of national rat race to the top is damaging for every nation hoping to extend its reach into the solar system in the increasingly globalized world we live in.
The ability to launch satellites and people to space is not only a point of pride for nations, it's also quickly becoming an absolute necessity.
The United States is increasingly reliant on space-based assets for navigation and imagery, and other countries need to have a part in that too, or they will be left behind.
Instead of calling on private companies and nations the world over to work together to accomplish costly and important spaceflight goals — as 15 nations did to build the International Space Station — Trump and others are falling back on out-dated nationalistic appeals that actively undermine the United Nations-supported goal of keeping space accessible for all.
Making America great in space again
"Nations that lead on the frontier, lead in the world," retired NASA astronaut Eileen Collins said during a speech at the Republican National Convention on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
"We need that leadership that will make America's space program first again. And we need leadership that will make America great again."
That kind of nationalistic thinking is a hard habit to break.
It's no secret that nationalism got us to the moon in the first place. It was the U.S. race to the moon with the former Soviet Union that propelled Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface.
But, we aren't racing another country back to the moon or to Mars today.
In fact, Russia is now one of our strongest allies in spaceflight. The country's Soyuz spacecraft transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Even when tensions between Russia and the U.S. were the highest they've been in recent memory, the Russian space agency and NASA cooperated to make sure that the astronauts and cosmonauts on the space station stayed safe and were insulated from the foreign policy disagreements.
The truth is, even during the Apollo years, we weren't as nationalistic as we thought we were.
"For all mankind"
In July 1969, when Aldrin and Armstrong touched down on the moon, a plaque attached to the lunar lander read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Yes, Armstrong and Aldrin planted the American flag in the lunar dirt as well, but instead of a plaque saying that Americans came in peace for all "Americans" the plaque included the world in this triumph of human ingenuity.
This public-private partnership in space was even praised in the Republican Party's platform this year.
The government money being funneled into the private companies under contract with NASA allows them to push the boundaries with building and testing new launchers and space vehicles.
In many ways, Elon Musk's SpaceX is around today because of NASA money.
Now, SpaceX is helping other countries access space by launching satellites and spacecraft for nations around the world. American innovation is boosting other countries to orbit.
This private partnership will also allow NASA to push farther into the solar system, focusing on stretching its reach to Mars or other worlds, but none of that matters if those that run our government don't accept that we're living in a new era of globalized spaceflight.
By limiting our view and ambitions to just Americans, we're wasting what could be a driver of collaboration and peace between nations the world over.
Isn't that worth setting nationalism aside for a least little while?