Cory Gardner’s ‘Big Idea’: Keep pace with China in the space race and prevent it from stealing American IP

The Big Idea is a series that asks top lawmakers and figures to discuss their moonshot – what’s the one proposal, if politics and polls and even price was not an issue, they’d implement to change the country for the better? 

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., believes in taking special precautions to protect the United States against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One of his proposals is to pump more money and attention into the space race to prevent China from taking hold of the final frontier in an effort to enhance its own power and harm American citizens. 

China has been criticized for various nefarious actions on the international stage in the past several years — the biggest and most recent being its delayed response to the coronavirus outbreak and its opaque behavior with regard to the virus’s possible origin. 

Gardner, who represents the swing state of Colorado and is up for reelection in November, isn’t the only lawmaker or political leader to specifically criticize China’s record on human rights, censorship, monetary manipulation and shakedown tactics. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been vocal about the Chinese government’s attempts to infiltrate American schools and localities in an effort to gain communist sympathizers who would harm the country from within. Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Rick Schott, R-Fla., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.. have all been threatened by China’s state-run media for speaking out against the government’s actions. 

Gardner said it’s vital America be vigilant with regard to aerospace technology and innovation — as scientists, the government and private industry continue to tackle projects related to Mars, the moon, satellite technology and deep space exploration. 


In your opinion, how does the United States keep pace with China with regard to the space race?

First of all – China sees U.S. space superiority as a significant threat to their attempt at domination. Economically, they certainly know it’s a threat from a national security standpoint and so they have worked hard for decades now to overcome U.S. space superiority. They’ve done that both from a standpoint of advancement and innovations within China’s space program and the military-industrial complex. But they have also done that by taking advantage of U.S. companies. Either explicitly or illicitly trying to take U.S. technologies – IP innovations – and forcing the transfer of those technologies through purchase or agreements on market access. The U.S. is basically now complicit in enabling Chinese advancements in Aerospace.

Should the U.S. be working closely with companies like SpaceX? How do they come into play here – and how deep are China’s ties in the private sector? 

China doesn’t just have ties to the private sector, they have anchors in the private sector. It is a spider web of lucrative interests that China has with U.S. space companies. That’s why we are working hard right now to stop the infiltration. If you look at China for instance – the universities – they have numerous cooperation agreements, joint partnerships with foreign universities, firms and organizations. They are leveraging their technologies and their research trying to vacuum all of that information. They are circumventing U.S. exclusionary space policy. They’re getting around it by collaborating with firms that maintain close relationships with NASA.

They are building bridges that transfer tech back to China. We know there are companies in the United States that have money flowing through them. Money flows through WeChat and Tencent, which is the same thing that’s backing TikTok. So we should at least have the same concern for our space industries as we have for TikTok.

Talk more about your plans to counterbalance the private infiltration you’re sounding the alarm about – How can the U.S. tangibly deal with this issue?

We need disclosure and we need NASA’s ability to act on it. And by disclosure I mean finding out, what does China have? What are they doing? Do they have ownership, are they investing, do they have a joint agreement? Do they have money at stake or is there some kind of cooperation? Then NASA should be able to consider those kinds of investment and venture capital arrangements when it is rewarding — or working with – a space company. I’m not saying they can’t and I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad, but we sure as hell better know.

They’re talking about a building outer space apparatuses. They’re talking about Earth-to-space technologies – space to space technologies. Their capabilities are immense and they’re using us to defeat ourselves.

How far do you think we can get in space in our lifetime — What are the short term goals and what is being sought after so badly, that a cold war atmosphere has once again developed between the world’s superpowers?

We have to maintain our space superiority. If we do that, it will maintain economic superiority and national security with regard to satellites, space-based missions and many other aspects. The moon is going to be a launching point. It’s the space base that we have to have for every other mission beyond lunar orbit and beyond the lunar mission itself. Whether it’s mining for critical minerals on the moon or whether it’s the next phase to Mars, we can’t fall behind.

China knows that. If China can take out our communication satellites and disable our communications equipment and intel satellites, they’re sure as hell going to beat us to the moon.

What you’re discussing sounds like science fiction, like Ian Fleming’s “Moonraker.” It’s more akin to the plot of a James Bond film than reality. Is there still a romantic “The Right Stuff” feeling and sense of patriotism linked with space travel and exploration — or has China’s investment in Hollywood turned the tide?

And what do you say to those who say your ideas are outdated or just another piece of a bloated federal budget?

I love the movie “The Right Stuff” and “From the Earth to the Moon.” It was an HBO series narrated by Tom Hanks. When I was growing up in the ’80s you had things like “Space Camp” about turning a tilt-a-whirl amusement park ride into a spacecraft. All we wanted to do was go to space. I remember my parents describing to me that when they looked up and saw Sputnik, it was as if someone had invaded their backyard and intruded on their most intimate moments. That Russian spycraft – that Soviet spycraft – that was over their home, over their town. And the weight that they knew they needed to pull together for America, to stop the Sputnik encroachment.

Now, you’ve got China manipulating space companies and Hollywood. You can’t even show the God dawn Taiwan flag on the back of Maverick’s jersey in Top Gun. We know what they want to do. Imagine the next rocket launch that takes place without that U.S. flag painted on it. What is that saying? China’s got one hell of a PR machine, we shouldn’t be so gullible as to fall for it. We need NASA to have their eyes open as we continue to make incredibly important investments in our future exploration.

What do you think of Elon Musk?

I think he’s been one of the most innovative thinkers in the country. Let me rephrase that – he’s been one of the most innovative thinkers in the world, with his talent and capabilities. Imagine if the Wright Brothers had said, we can’t do this in the U.S. and moved out of the country. We need to make sure that the next leap that leads to the next innovation and job growth is here not somewhere else.


Do you think there will be added benefits for civilians and accidental discoveries to help the general population if more money is pumped into researching and exploring space?

Science happens and it happens sometimes where you least expect it — and when you least expect it. If you’re not doing the science, you’ll never know. Sometimes the big picture, the big idea, the main reason for the experiment isn’t even the biggest reward in the outcome. Space is one of those areas where we are a pioneering nation. Our next wave of pioneering isn’t to find more westward expansion – it’s up. It’s the heavens above. That’s where we need to go. The knowledge that it will bring, will be unparalleled in the USA and in human history.

We know what China wants to do. You can see it in Hong Kong. You can see it with their threats against Taiwan. You can see it in their militarization of the South China Sea. You can see it with the internment camps they’ve placed people in. This is not a nation that is a responsible actor.

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