"The Pace of Change"
Dr. George C. Nield, Space Policy Institute
November 2, 2010

Symposium on U.S. Space Policy


Good afternoon, everyone.

I’m not sure all of the factors that were involved in deciding when this symposium would be held, but this turns out to be a very interesting date to get together. As you may know, next week NASA is planning to launch the Space Shuttle Discovery on what is scheduled to be its final mission, STS-133.

But 12 years ago today, on October 29, 1998, Discovery was successfully launched on the 95th Space Shuttle mission. Although there were a number of scientific objectives for the flight, most of the interest from the general public revolved around who was onboard. In fact, one of the crewmembers was already a space legend from what he had accomplished much earlier in his career. I’m speaking of course, about John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. On that day, Glenn became the oldest person to travel into space – 36 years after his first historic mission.

At age 77, Glenn’s nine-day journey would change perceptions of what being elderly means. No longer responsible for pushing the envelope of the latest fighter aircraft, he ended up pushing the boundaries of what a person was expected to be able to accomplish during his eighth decade of life. He demonstrated that going into orbit posed no special dangers to the elderly – and supported the notion that age alone is not a reason to stop aspiring to new challenges. In his words, “old folks can have dreams too.” He helped us to expand our understanding of what it means to be elderly – and to look at maturity in a new light.

So October 29 is a day upon which those of us who are space enthusiasts can proudly reflect, and a day which we can truly celebrate. On the other hand, economists and historians likely have an entirely different response to this page on the calendar. For it was on this date in 1929, that panic selling wiped out thousands of investors as millions of shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange. The collapse of the stock market set off a complete upheaval of our commercial markets and set in motion what would become “The Great Depression.”

The effects were global, and that was before we understood the global economy the way we do today – and before we understood how small and fragile our planet is, or how the Earth would look from space.

Today we have our own challenges with the economy. But we are also in the process of undergoing a major transformation of our nation’s space program. With the upcoming retirement of the Space Shuttle, an increased reliance on private industry, and the potential for entirely new industries related to space tourism and space habitats, there is a lot going on right now. And the pace seems to be accelerating. Let me briefly review with you some of the recent happenings in Commercial Space Transportation, things that have happened in just the last 12 months:

  • November 5–NASA awarded $1.65 million in prizes to Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems for successfully completing the Lunar Lander Challenge
  • December 7–Rollout of SpaceShipTwo in Mojave
  • January 13–The FAA issued a Spaceport License to Cecil Field (now there are 8)
  • April 7–The FAA issued a Safety Approval to NASTAR for their Centrifuge/Simulator system
  • June 4–Successful first launch of Falcon 9 by SpaceX
  • June 28–Release of the new National Space Policy
  • August 15–The White House Task Force chaired by Charlie Bolden, the NASA Administrator; and Gary Locke, the Secretary of Commerce; called for establishment of an FAA Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at KSC in Florida
  • August 18–The FAA announced the universities selected for the new Commercial Space Transportation Center of Excellence
  • September 15–Boeing and Space Adventures announce the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement to sell passenger seats on commercial spaceflights to low-Earth orbit
  • October 5–XCOR and Space Experience Curacao announced the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement involving operations of the Lynx suborbital spacecraft in the Netherlands Antilles
  • October 10–First glide flight of SpaceShipTwo
  • October 20–Robert Bigelow announces that he has signed agreements with 6 foreign countries that are interested in leasing space aboard his planned commercial space habitats
  • October 22–Runway dedication at Spaceport America in New Mexico
  • October 25–NASA released the solicitation for the Commercial Crew Development program, round 2 (CCDev2), which will be worth about $200 million
  • October 28–Second glide flight of SpaceShipTwo

And it looks like this rather hectic pace will continue going forward:

  • So far, there have been 202 FAA-licensed commercial launches. But in the very near future, we expect to be able to issue our first-ever reentry license.
  • November 18 – SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 booster carrying a Dragon capsule, and then to reenter the capsule and recover it in the ocean.

So there is a lot going on right now. It’s an exciting time.

When John Glenn had his second spaceflight, at age 77, he sparked a new interest in space among the American public, and taught us that aging need not mean the end of curiosity or of “out of this world” adventures.

Today, as the era of space tourism is about to begin, people excited about space, whether young, middle-aged, or elderly, are no longer restricted to watching the mission on a big-screen TV. Instead, as long as they have the financial resources, they can simply purchase a ticket to experience the ride of their life first-hand.

In carrying out the new National Space Policy, and in conducting a U.S. space program that is “worthy of a great nation,” there will certainly be plenty of challenges. If we are going to be successful, we may need to make some changes. As the space industry redefines itself, we’ll need to adopt some new paradigms, some new ways to view what we do and how we do it, and come to a new recognition of the possibilities that lie ahead. At the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, we are committed to doing our part, in cooperation with industry and with other government agencies, to enable safe and successful commercial space transportation. So let’s get on with it!

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