To grow the economy, spur innovation and create jobs, the government should commit the financial resources to the space program and not look at this as an area to gut.
Critics of commercial space enterprises do not understand that “new space,” as this new industry is often called, is grounded in a long history of exploration and economic growth. It is space done the way Americans have always developed new geographic and industrial frontiers. New space is old America.
As soon as the American Revolution was won, the government began vigorous programs to advance economic growth, trade and industrial development.
In the last century, the American government successfully supported the growth and viability of the aviation industry through the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA’s predecessor) and other agencies. The Internet is another example of a new frontier where government-supported development yielded a successful, revolutionary industry that has created new jobs and new wealth.
There is no question that our space program has yielded many technological, scientific and medical advances that have improved — and will continue to improve — our quality of life.
The Washington area has a big economic stake in the issue: An estimated 125,000 people work in aerospace-related jobs, plus the region is home to NASA headquarters and other major NASA centers. Of particular interest, Virginia is home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a commercial facility that is scheduled to begin launching resupply missions to the International Space Station next year.
American entrepreneurs here and elsewhere are poised to lead the world in space development with everything from commercial taxi services to private space stations.
No new legislation is needed for the government to do its part. In 1985, Congress mandated that NASA “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.”
But in today’s cost-cutting climate, NASA is one adverse budget away from losing its human spaceflight program. A government program to explore space that is seen as expensive and does not result in production of new wealth cannot be sustained forever. Its mandate to support commercial development is NASA’s opportunity to increase national revenue from space, lower its own costs and, in the process, assure the nation’s future in space.
If commercial space enterprises can develop sustainable markets, whether from tourism or biomedical research or energy production, then nothing will stop our exploration of space. Launch costs, spacecraft costs and operations costs will all drop with new innovations and rising demand.
A booming commercial space industry would employ thousands of well-paid American workers and reestablish the United States as the dominant exporter of space goods and services. This kind of success brings a golden age of space within our reach.
Government support for space commercialization isn’t just an option. If we are to have a future in space, it’s a necessity.
Gary Oleson, who worked on NASA’s International Space Station program earlier in his career, is an engineer at the Chantilly-based federal contracting firm Tasc. Oleson’s views do not necessarily reflect the official position of Tasc.