ICYMI: Bennet Addresses Afghanistan, U.S. Space Command at Space Symposium’s Space Technology Hall of Fame Dinner

Colorado Springs –– Last night, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet spoke at the Space Symposium’s Space Technology Hall of Fame Dinner. In his remarks, Bennet addressed the reprehensible terror attacks in Kabul and highlighted Colorado’s leadership in national security space and space innovation. Bennet also stressed the need to secure America’s leadership in space in order to compete with countries like China and Russia and pushed for a thorough review of the decision to relocate U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama. 

Bennet’s full remarks as delivered are available below.

Frank, thank you for that very, very warm introduction. It’s an honor to join you this evening. 

Let’s have a round of applause for the organizers and sponsors for pulling off another successful conference.

I also wanted to start with a brief word about Afghanistan.

The terror attacks in Kabul today were reprehensible and I know we are all profoundly saddened by the loss of 13 brave American troops and many Afghans. 

And the perpetrators will pay for what they have done.

And in the meantime, there will be time to examine the lessons we can take by people like professors at the Air Force Academy not only from the last few weeks, but from the last 20 years.

But for now our focus should be on swiftly finishing the evacuation of Americans and the Afghan partners who sacrificed everything to support our mission.

I can think of nothing that would honor the people who served our country in Afghanistan more than making sure we keep our commitment to the interpreters and others who stood with us over the past 20 years.

And, let me say also, as someone who represents a state that is home to one of the highest percentage of veterans in this country that whatever one thinks about the decision of the President to bring this war to an end and reasonable minds will certainly disagree this is a very difficult moment for our veterans and their families, and I hope we keep them in mind in the months ahead and express our profound gratitude for their service.

I know Secretary Kendall, General Raymond, and General Dickinson are working every day they’re working right now to secure America’s leadership in space. And, we need to support them in this work because we don't have a moment to lose.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which I serve, is regularly briefed about how China and Russia are racing to eclipse our leadership in space.  

Last December, Space Command publicly warned that Russia had tested an anti-satellite missile.

Our Intelligence Community tells us: “Russia continues to train its military space elements and field new anti-satellite weapons to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities.”

Russia is developing and testing an array of counterspace weapons — from jamming and cyberspace capabilities to directed energy weapons.

At the same time, the IC assesses that “Beijing is working to match or exceed U.S. capabilities in space.” 

Space is a hallmark a hallmark of their China First policy, and they’re forming partnerships across the globe through their “Space Silk Road.” 

We know Beijing is pursuing several ambitions for space, including:

Lunar, interplanetary and near-Earth asteroid missions; 

Space station construction; 

A national satellite internet project; and 

Developing reusable space transportation systems. 

Those aren’t projects for 2030 or 2050 they’re for 2025.

I bring this up not to depress anybody in this room...but to challenge all of us. 

Everyone in this room knows what powerful capabilities exist today in space and even more powerful capabilities over the horizon. 

It’s why we cannot allow China and Russia totalitarian governments with no regard for values like privacy or free speech or, even, democracy, itself to set the rules of the road for space in the 21st century.  That would be a disaster for humanity.

And America has to lead.  

We’re not going to do it by copying Beijing and Moscow and telling businesses what to innovate, or telling scientists what they have to research. 

We’re going to do it through our enduring strengths as a democracy and capitalist economy.

A dynamic ecosystem of innovation;

World-class universities; and yes...

A strategic federal government.

I know that might sound like an oxymoron to some people. 

But if we’re serious about America’s leadership in space, we have to expect more from Washington.

And at a minimum, Washington has to make decisions about our space assets based, not on politics, but on our objective national security interests. 

We can’t afford to squander time, talent, or taxpayer money when the threats and competition in space continue to grow on a daily basis.

We don’t have the time. 

And it’s why I’ve repeatedly raised concerns about the last administration’s basing decision for Space Command, and I’ve called on President Biden and the Pentagon to review that decision.

Because I strongly believe that any fair assessment would conclude that Colorado is the natural home for Space Command.

There is a reason we host the largest Space Symposium in the world.

We have America’s largest space economy per capita.

We’re home to over 500 space companies and suppliers, including nine of the leading aerospace contractors. 

Here in Colorado Springs, the Air Force Academy has the top undergraduate program for aerospace engineering. 

And, Colorado is the home to:

The National Space Defense Center;

U.S. Northern Command;

North American Aerospace Defense Command;

Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station; and 

Buckley Space Force Base. 

And dare I say it this beautiful hotel!

We are the nexus of space operations for both the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense a partnership that will only grow in the years ahead.

Those are the facts, and Washington should let them drive the basing decision not politics.

Beyond that, Washington needs to scale up our investment in space. And we can start by passing the President’s budget for NASA, which would be the largest in American history.

Government needs to support and reflect private sector innovation in space, rather than lag behind.

To do this, we need to make the government much easier to work with from acquisitions to procurement to giving small businesses better access to classified facilities, so they can get their foot in the door.

And finally — and I feel this strongly as the former school superintendent in Denver we have to scale up our investment in STEM education and apprenticeships to create the skilled workforce America needs.

But Washington can’t do this on its own. 

Our leadership in space has always relied on a close partnership with the people in this room.

So just as the government needs to do more, this moment calls on everyone here to lead.

Because the next decade will be as critical for America’s space leadership in this century as the sixties were to the last.

We can’t wake up a decade from now and find our leadership eclipsed by another power. 

We have to strive for a future where our space program, as it did in the sixties, spins off commercial ideas that produce broad-based economic growth here at home.

Where our kids and grandkids can look up at the stars and see a secure and peaceful domain, one where America leads with our allies on behalf of the free world.

A place that still brims with mystery and opportunity for humanity, as it did when our parents and grandparents answered Kennedy’s challenge 60 years ago.

I thank everybody who’s here tonight and congratulations on another successful conference.