"Thanks to COMSTAC, Things Are Looking Good"
Dr. George C. Nield, Washington, D.C.
October 29, 2009

50th Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee Meeting

I just have a few brief remarks today, but before I begin, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce one of the newest members of our AST team. Jim Duffy joined the office at the end of August as our Chief Engineer. Jim, could you stand, please? 

Jim has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from California State Polytechnic University. He began his aerospace career with Rockwell International, where he served as Vehicle Manager for Space Shuttle Columbia. He has also been Program Manager for the European Space Agency's Crew Transfer Vehicle, Chief Project Engineer for the National Aerospace Plane, and Chief Engineer for the Orbital Space Plane. Prior to joining the FAA, he was Chief Engineer for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program for the Orbital Sciences Corporation. If you haven’t already had a chance to do so, please introduce yourself to him during one of our breaks today. I think you’ll enjoy chatting with him.

It’s hard to believe, but this is actually the 50th meeting of COMSTAC.

As best as we can tell, the first meeting took place on October 22 and 23, 1984. At that meeting, the committee made eight recommendations. One of those was that we be represented on the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

This past February, 25 years after COMSTAC recommended it, I spoke before that subcommittee in Vienna. Now, some might say, well, it sure took you long enough. I suppose. But it also underscores the fact that we don’t forget or ever take lightly what COMSTAC has to say.

COMSTAC has given us much to be thankful for and so much to respect.

The first COMSTAC members were appointed by Elizabeth Dole, and the first Chair was Gerald Mossinghoff, Executive Director of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.

Historically, the COMSTAC membership roster reads like a Who’s Who of the American spaceflight effort — as well it should.

Norm Augustine and Deke Slayton were among the first members. Elon Musk has been a member and so has Mae Jemison. Former astronauts Frank Culbertson, Mike Lounge, and Charlie Precourt are all current members. And Dave Thompson and Lori Garver are both COMSTAC veterans.

I don’t know how many of you know Gene Kadar, who now works for AST, but he served as a COMSTAC member a number of years ago.

Today we want to thank all members, past and present, for the outstanding work they have done. Let me mention a few more who have rendered distinguished service.

  • Livingston Holder, appointed in 1996, currently holds the honor of longest serving member. He also served as COMSTAC chair from 1998 to 2003.
  • Lou Gomez, now the program manager for Spaceport America, was appointed a few months later in 1996.
  • At the same time, Secretary Pena appointed Eleanor Aldrich to COMSTAC, a post she’s held while doing yeoman’s work at AIAA. As many of you know, Eleanor was honored Tuesday night by Women in Aerospace at their annual awards ceremony.
  • And of course, we remember Alex Liang, who we sadly lost last spring, and who was appointed with Eleanor and Lou.
  • Michael Kelly joined COMSTAC in May of 1998, set up the RLV Working Group and chaired it for ten years.
  • John Vinter was appointed in January of 2000 and chaired the Committee from July of 2003 until January of 2007.
  • Appointed at the same time as John, Dr. Billie Reed has served COMSTAC with distinction representing the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

So please join me in offering special thanks to these members and a round of applause and appreciation for all of our members today.

It’s fitting at this 50th COMSTAC meeting that one of its current members, Jeff Greason, is here to give us a report on the Augustine panel on which he also served.

Before Jeff speaks, let me very briefly offer a few observations on the Augustine report from the AST perspective.

First, the industry should be proud that the Commission’s charter listed “stimulating commercial space flight capability” as one of the four primary objectives of its efforts to identify potential options.

Second, while mindful of the recognition that commercial space received, it is important to acknowledge that the report itself was largely focused on NASA’s future, the direction it will take, and the vehicles it will use to get there. So when you consider that commercial received as much attention in the report as it did, it’s all the more gratifying.

Third, the report said “it is appropriate to consider turning over to the commercial sector the transport” of astronauts to the ISS. That’s not only music to the industry’s ears. It’s an actual industry objective.

Fourth, the report said “there is little doubt” — let me repeat that — “there is little doubt” that the industry has the technical capability to build and operate a crew taxi to low-Earth orbit. Amen to that.

And, fifth, came this:  “Commercial services to deliver crew to low-earth orbit are within reach” and with the potential for lower costs than government could achieve. That’s exactly the case the commercial sector, the private, entrepreneurial, creative men and women in this business have been making all along.

It’s true that the report did not fully explore the wide range and diverse potential of commercial space services and ambitions.

But keep in mind that the Augustine panel examined commercial spaceflight almost exclusively for how it could interact with and benefit NASA. It is, therefore, both remarkable and eye-opening that a presidential, blue-ribbon panel looking at the practical side of spaceflight, saw the commercial sector distinctly for the high-value asset it is.

It’s also true that the report wasn’t all sunshine, roses and slaps on the back for commercial space flight. But it wasn’t all about criticism, either.

In fact, it’s clear from the panel’s findings that there is broad support for the industry to proceed, and to deliver safe and reliable hardware because the nation’s hope for space in the years to come will be depending in no small part on the quality of commercial rockets.

I see opportunity throughout the report. And I get the sense that the American space community is finally recognizing that commercial space flight is coming of age. At spaceflight family gatherings, we’re not sitting at the card table any more. Commercial space flight has a seat at the main table.

We’ve all known for some time about out ability to contribute. Over the course of this summer, a lot more people have begun to come to the same conclusion.

There is a tremendous amount of work to do now in the commercial space sector as it relates to NASA. But the report helps confirm that it’s work worth doing. Commercial spaceflight is an asset in demand, and this is an industry on the move, whether it’s taking the lead in low-earth-orbit, taking passengers on suborbital flights, or carrying astronauts to the space station.

This is an exciting time and one that the industry’s been working toward for years. I am confident we will make the most of it.