"Commercial Human Spaceflight on the Horizon"
Dr. George C. Nield, The Plains, Virginia
May 15, 2010

Team America Rocketry Challenge

What a great day for launching rockets!  I’m certainly honored to have a chance to participate in the festivities.

I don’t know how many of you are space historians, but some of you may be surprised to be reminded that the United States has been launching astronauts into orbit for almost 50 years now. During that time, there were a number of different programs, so we have had to weather a few transitions along the way. For example, 47 years ago today, on May 15, 1963, Gordon Cooper was launched into space on the very last flight of Project Mercury, America’s first human spaceflight program. It was a very successful flight, and at 34 hours and 20 minutes, the longest flight we had ever done. In fact, it was longer than all of the previous Mercury flights put together. A couple of years later, Project Gemini began, followed by Apollo and the moon landings.

Today, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is circling the Earth on what will likely be its final mission. As the Shuttle program comes to a close, with just two more launches on the schedule, we are going to have some more transitions to work through. But let me assure you that there are some very exciting things on the horizon when it comes to human space flight. As just one example, we are currently on the threshold of a new era in space transportation: commercial human spaceflight, and specifically, suborbital space tourism. Our office at the FAA is working with about a half dozen companies right now, each of which is in the process of designing, building, and testing vehicles that are capable of carrying paying passengers to the edge of space, allowing them to look out the window and see the blackness of the sky and the curvature of the Earth, and experience the magic of weightlessness. Within the next few years, I am convinced that we are going to see multiple companies launching suborbital spaceflights several times per week. That will mean hundreds of launches per year, allowing thousands of people to experience spaceflight firsthand.

Those companies, and others that are already well-established in the aerospace business, are going to need plenty of talented, hard-working people like you, to develop and operate those vehicles, and their successors, to take us back to the Moon, on to Mars, and to other destinations throughout the Solar System. And after what I have seen today, I know you are going to do a fantastic job. I’d like to congratulate the winners, and indeed all of the participants, on what you have achieved. And I want to thank all of you who have supported the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Because these young people, the ones who have been conducting the launches we have been watching today, are going to be among the leaders of our upcoming adventures in space.

On behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, let me just say, “Good job!” and best wishes in all of your future endeavors.