Anheuser-Busch Briefing Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St NW, Washington, D.C.
Registration and Breakfast: 8:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.
Americans have a rich history in the vast darkness that is space. We love sci-fi movies (Star Wars, for instance, has generated more than $22 billion since its debut in 1977), undeniably love adventure (we were first on the Moon, after all), and love winning (see previous).
However, when the last man walked on the Moon, the average American home didn’t have Post-It Notes (invented in 1975), let alone a home computer. When Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan left the Moon, they did not know when, or even if, we would get back.
Fast forward 39 years after that lunar liftoff to 2011, when the last crew of the 30 year-old Space Shuttle fleet orbited the Earth. I can imagine those individuals have a very similar feeling as their Apollo 17 predecessors.
When will a US spacecraft get us back into orbit?
Where does that leave us?
Right now, I think that the end of the Shuttle program has us grasping for inspiration. It may even have us risking the investments we have made over the last five decades in our space program.
My question to the reader: How can we get back the inspiration we felt in the 1960s as we dreamed of exploring new worlds? Ideas and concepts for America’s role in space are no doubt plentiful. They include capturing asteroids, sending robots to other planets, and sending a few astronauts to Mars to plant the Stars and Stripes. These are all standard ideas being floated (pun intended) around the space community, but who will do the innovation necessary for this to happen?
Last Man on the Moon
In his book, “Return to the Moon,” former Apollo 17 moonwalker (and former U.S. Senator) Harrison Schmitt goes as far as to say that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) isn’t the place for developing a new plan to get us to deep space. He says that the agency lacks the youthful energy and imagination needed to put us back into deep space.
If not NASA—the organization our nation formed to respond to the Soviet Union’s pursuit of space—then where should we find such innovation?
An important first step in this process was found with the launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and its drone that docked with the International Space Station. The next step: making space a profitable investment for private business.
Where should commercial space programs make their investment? Is it cost effective to develop solar arrays that somehow redirect the energy it captures back to Earth or to fuel up a space craft that is losing power? Will we see an aerospace company pair up with a large equipment manufacturer and a mining company to mine an asteroid?
How can we re-ignite the dream that is space exploration? The children of the 1960s and 1970s had the fortune of growing up with a space race, a visible NASA, rocket launches, Moon walks, and front page headlines that recorded events that were once thought impossible. Those things were the standard for that age.
The children of the late 1980s–2000s weren’t so lucky. Shuttle missions, short of the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia, didn’t bring about the media coverage that the Apollo or earlier Gemini and Mercury missions easily received.
In fact, I would be willing to bet that a majority of Americans have no idea that Americans have continuously been in space for the last ten years aboard the International Space Station.
So is the answer more exposure and publicity? Or is the answer for private industry to push NASA aside and make space a profitable next step for industry? Previous generations have answered the call to innovate. So must we.