A new space race is just beginning for DC

The space race is still recent enough to be in living memory, but there may be another one looming on the horizon. Space is on more people’s minds than ever, and to help fuel that, Politico has just launched a weekly newsletter about space. Today, we’re joined by Jacqueline Klimas, national security reporter at Politico and co-author of this new newsletter.

ABERMAN: First of all, thanks for joining us.

KLIMAS: Thanks for having me.

ABERMAN: I’ll admit, I’m a space geek. I’m not gonna to lie, your newsletter seems really cool, but tell us about it.

KLIMAS: So, it’s a weekly newsletter. It’s going to be coming out every Friday. It launched earlier earlier in April, and we’re really excited about it. It’s a new product for us, it’s just really exciting to delve a little more into the space race at such an exciting time. You know, the President is talking about it, the administration talking about it, we have this new National Space Council. The Commerce Department is into it. It’s really across the administration, and there’s just so much cool stuff going on in the private sector as well. I actually started covering space about a year ago, and I didn’t even realize I was a space nerd until I got into it. And now, I just absolutely love it.

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ABERMAN: So for me, I think I became a space nerd probably with Apollo 8, with the Christmas Day poem as they came around and saw the Earth. What was about last year that made you a space geek?

KLIMAS: So, I actually had to go down to Cape Canaveral and see a rocket launch, which, I mean, I’ll admit I was crying. To see something go up into space—it was a SpaceX launch—so seeing it then come back down and land, just really got me hooked.

ABERMAN: When you think about what’s going on here, it would seem to me that there are two big trends right now. There’s entrepreneurship in space, and there’s also, I think, a growing arms race in space. It appears to me that both of those come together in really unique way here in D.C.

KLIMAS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think this the center of everything. You have the administration, the exploration push with NASA, the goal get to Mars. We actually just did a story about the potential for space war, and all the ways that our satellites are vulnerable in space. If someone were to target that, all of a sudden, all the GPSs could just stop working. You have no Uber, no more timing stamps for ATMS, the economy would really just grind to a halt.

So, there’s that huge vulnerability. And then, you have the industry really doing these really innovative things. There’s SpaceX landing rocket boosters, and reusing them, which just really lowering the cost of entry to get into space. You have these new innovative companies who can basically hitch rides on rockets, making it so much cheaper for new countries and new companies to enter the market.

ABERMAN: Admittedly, it’s going to create enormous regulatory challenges. I think, for example, you mentioned SpaceX. They’re playing for the Low-Earth satellite network, where they’re going to provide broadband with all these micro-satellites, and the space junk that’s already up there and the threat that it poses. How are we going to get there without really having problems? It doesn’t seem like the free market is going to solve all these problems, is all I’m saying.

KLIMAS: Yeah. Someone just told me the other day that the technology has definitely outpaced the policy realm. There just isn’t the policy or the regulations to govern this sort of stuff right now, with regard to useful rockets, or satellite servicing. People want to be able to go up and, when satellites run out of fuel, they want to be able to be put more fuel in the tank so we don’t have to trash them, using less space debris. But right now, you go to these agencies and say, I want to do this, and they’re like, we’ve never done this before, we have to figure out who you should be talking to, what licenses you need, the government regulations just really haven’t caught up to the things private companies want to be able to do.

ABERMAN: It’s interesting to me, because I think we could say a similar thing about autonomous cars, and drones, and a lot of different places. Technology doesn’t wait. Technology goes, which I think is what makes space so exciting as an opportunity. It’s glamorous—Captain Kirk, the final frontier, and all that stuff—but when I think about covering this, as you now are, how does this play with national security, and does this really bear out, in a particular way, how national security really does drive the economy, locally and nationally?

KLIMAS: I think that that’s definitely true, space is completely intertwined with national security. I mean, when the military is launching a drone strike somewhere on the other side of the world, that’s all GPS signals. When the military is collecting data and surveillance from the other side of the world, even things like sending orders to commanders in the field, those are all via email, which comes over satellite. So, it definitely has a huge impact on national security.

ABERMAN: We go to the consumer side, and it appears that we’re now seeing, well—Virgin Galactic should start flying relatively soon, Blue Origin, and various private efforts are going to do—not even orbit, but just low altitude, or high altitude elliptical things like Alan Shepard did. But we’ve got people like Boeing now talking about Low Earth Orbit, but how far away do you think we are from a space tourism industry?

KLIMAS: I think we’re still a couple years, but people are definitely already talking about it. There are capsules where you can go up to the edge of space,the idea will be that you can feel the weightlessness of not having gravity, see the Earth from space, and then come back down. Right now, the the cost at first is going to be very high, but, just like air travel, I think people are predicting that, over time, going to space or flying through space—If you fly through space, you can get anywhere in the world, in this crazy short amount of time. So this is, of course, way in the future, but it will become more commonplace.

ABERMAN: I think it will be very interesting to see, and this is something that was touched on in one of your newsletters that I read recently, that one of the big things people are going to have to overcome is, it’s going to be risky. Just like aviation was risky—planes crashed a lot in the 20s and 30s. There’s going to be a period of time where it’s going to be really risky to be on top of a rocket or a spaceplane. Do you think that consumers, and the nation, is really ready to tolerate an entrepreneurial approach to space exploration?

KLIMAS: I think that people who love space really want to go to space. I think there will be people who absolutely will be willing to spend the money, and take the risk to do it, because how many people can say they’ve been space? It’s a really cool thing.

ABERMAN: It’s the ultimate roller coaster ride!

KLIMAS: Exactly.

ABERMAN: So, you’re gonna go, then? If you have chance?

KLIMAS: Prior to this endeavor, I was always a hard no, because I get sick on airplanes, and I didn’t think it would be for me, but the view, and it’s tempting for sure.

ABERMAN: I’m with you. I mean, I get scared on roller coasters, but I will tell you that if I had an opportunity to go, maybe I’ll just sedate myself. Where can folks sign up for this newsletter?

KLIMAS: You can go to politico.com, and there’s a space page there where you’ll be able to sign up. It comes out every Friday morning. We have the latest space news of the week for space geeks and non-space-geeks alike.

ABERMAN: I’m definitely going to enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy writing it as much as we’re going to enjoy reading it. Jacqueline, thanks for joining us.

KLIMAS: Thank you.