"The FAA's Role in the Lunar Lander Challenge"
Dr. George C. Nield, Washington, D.C.
December 8, 2008

NASA Awards Ceremony

Thank you, Doug [Comstock, Director of NASA’s Innovative Partnership Program].

I am privileged to lead the Office of Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA. We have a two-fold mission: first, to ensure public safety during commercial launch and reentry activities, and secondly, to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space transportation. As it turns out, we had the opportunity to exercise both parts of our mission during the recent Lunar Lander Challenge activities out in New Mexico.

There are a number of things we do to ensure public safety.

For example, we develop and publish regulations, we issue launch licenses and experimental permits, and we send safety inspectors out to observe each and every commercial launch.

I am pleased to report that the event out in New Mexico went very smoothly. It was clear that both Armadillo Aerospace and TrueZer0 had safety as their top priority, even though there was significant prize money at stake. And we were very pleased to see that.

In addition to focusing on safety, we also try to do our part to clear away some of the bureaucratic obstacles that could prevent the industry from being successful. In this case, we served as a focal point in obtaining the necessary approvals related to environmental impacts, temporary closure of the Las Cruces airport, restricting traffic in the nearby airspace, and making sure that the necessary insurance policies were in place. Many of the challenges we faced were due to the fact that the location of the event was changed only a few weeks before the scheduled date. After a lot of hard work by our staff and with the cooperation of a number of other organizations, both inside and outside the FAA, we were able to get the job done. But I want to specifically thank all of the people who were involved in that process, because without their help, the event would not have taken place.

This is a very exciting time for our nation, and for our space program. That is particularly true in what has come to be known as the “New Space” community, where we are seeing progress, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking on almost a daily basis. And John Carmack and his team at Armadillo Aerospace have been among the real leaders of that community, demonstrating a new paradigm of how to build and fly space vehicles that are safe, reliable, and affordable. I think it is interesting to note that of the five experimental permits that have been issued to date, Armadillo has received three of them. And of the 20 permitted launches that have taken place so far, 16 have been conducted by Armadillo. That’s a pretty impressive record.

So John, congratulations!  We are proud of you and what you have accomplished. And we look forward to working with you and your team in the months ahead as you take on some even more ambitious goals such as carrying people on suborbital spaceflights, and eventually, taking payloads on to orbit.