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United States Representative Jim Bridenstine has been nominated to be the next Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Within the 29-Dec-2016 blog post Why the Moon Matters on his official US House of Representatives website are the paragraphs in block quotes below. The second paragraph of the block quote begins "It must be stated that constitutionally, the U.S. government is required to provide for the common defense." There is a discussion of a possible future cis-lunar economy, and I believe this is an argument that there is therefore a constitutional mandate to extend a military presence into space in order to protect this non-existent but potential future economy.

note: There is of course a sizable economic (and military) interest within Earth orbit; GPS, telecommunications, weather, mapping and other real-time data for example. But currently there does not seem to be much of an economy near the Moon, and it's that potential future economy that I'm referring to.

question: Is this a fairly standard use and application of the constitutional reference "to provide for the common defense", or is it a bit of a stretch? Would it automatically apply to a potential, future cis-lunar economy that does not yet exist? Is this cart-before-the-horse, or build it, they will come thinking, or is the extension of a military presence in anticipation of a non-existent but potential future economy a logical extension of providing for the common defense?


As the cis-lunar economy develops, competition for locations and resources on the Moon is inevitable. The Chinese currently have landers and rovers on the Moon. The United States does not. Very soon, the Chinese will be the first of humanity to explore the far side of the Moon and place robots at the poles. As my friend Congressman Bill Posey says, “They are not going there to collect rocks.” China has its own manned space station. The United States’ commitment to the International Space Station ends in 2024. China has a domestic capability to launch its Taikonauts into orbit. The United States relies on Russia. American adversaries are testing antisatellite weapons and proliferating satellite jamming, spoofing, and dazzling technologies. It is time for the United States to re-posture and assert true space leadership.

It must be stated that constitutionally, the U.S. government is required to provide for the common defense. This includes defending American military AND commercial assets in orbit, many of which have the dual role of providing commercial and military capabilities. The same applies for assets on and around the Moon. The U.S. government must establish a legal framework and be prepared to defend private and corporate rights and obligations, all keeping within the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The United States must have cis-lunar situational awareness, a cis-lunar presence, and eventually must be able to defend freedom of action in space. Cis-lunar development will proceed with American values and the rule of law if the United States leads.

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    This line of reasoning sounds reasonably similar to some support of 'manifest destiny'. – user9389 Sep 10 '17 at 9:19
  • @notstoreboughtdirt that thought had crossed my mind as well. – uhoh Sep 10 '17 at 9:22
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    How is this in any way, shape, or form, different in concept than defending freedom of navigation of world oceans, just extended into space? – user4012 Sep 10 '17 at 18:34
  • @user4012 There is the glaring lack of a surface of water on which to float the space ships for example. – uhoh Sep 10 '17 at 19:18
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No.

The preamble sets out the purposes of the Constitution, but it doesn't lay out obligations. Could we ban all dissent on the grounds that the dissent doesn't make for "a more perfect union"? Could we present pretty much any government program as constitutionally obligated because it "promotes the general welfare"? No, the goals in the preamble are open to too much interpretation to be legally meaningful.

Even if it could somehow be interpreted as an obligation, I don't think it would apply outside US territory. There are some countries that nationalized various industries, often at the expense of US-based multinational corporations. Nobody ever claimed that it was a violation of the US Constitution for us to not take military action.

Also remember that the Outer Space Treaty, which we have ratified, prohibits a military presence on the moon, saying:

The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.

It could easily be argued that violating this treaty would encourage others to also violate it, which could actually weaken our common defense.

  • The question is about cis-lunar space, and an "economy near the Moon" rather than on it. Imagine the shipping of substance and protection against pirates rather than the mining of it for (a crude) example. Does the OST extend to cis-lunar space? But the question is primarily about the constitutional mandate, not about treaties. Is "constitutional mandate" an oxymoron because "it doesn't lay out obligations"? (is my use of "mandate" incorrect in the question?) – uhoh Sep 10 '17 at 6:40
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    "Does the OST extend to cis-lunar space?" - Yes, but not that particular clause. – D M Sep 10 '17 at 17:16
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    The Constitution has very few actual mandates (saying the government must do something.) The federal government has the power to maintain a navy, but for several years we did not, despite pirate attacks on the high seas (which is very analogous to the situation you describe in space.) One actual listed obligation is to protect the states against invasion, but obviously outer space is not a state. – D M Sep 10 '17 at 17:28

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