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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What's in Florida's space future?
Joe Saunders
For the U.S. manned space program, 2012 is a good year for anniversaries. Forty years ago this year, Apollo 17 ended the last mission of a legendary program that put the American flag on the moon. One year ago in July, the U.S. Space Shuttle program ended when the Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center. With the cancellation of the Constellation program, the federal government's commitment to space exploration has slowed considerably. Florida's state government, through Space Florida, is trying to attract aerospace companies from around the globe to Brevard County and the surrounding area and its space-intensive labor pool. Can private industry make up for the loss of the shuttle program to Florida and the country as a whole? Or has the United States permanently ceded space development to the country's main international competitors: Russia and China?
Robert Cabana
Director, Kennedy Space Center

Fifty years after NASA established a spaceport to launch men to the moon and probes to explore the far reaches of our solar system, Kennedy Space Center's mission has not wavered.

Our team is celebrating five decades of extraordinary accomplishments and unprecedented abilities. We're also gearing up for a vibrant future full of processing, testing and launching the most complex machines ever built.

When the spaceport commenced on July 1, 1962, as the Launch Operations Center, its founders knew that the complex would be a national resource capable of supporting a wide array of vehicles. During this decade, we're going back to those roots with the help of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program by revamping existing infrastructure and facilities to give us the flexibility to host a variety of vehicles as we transition to the launch complex of the future.

As our namesake, President Kennedy, stated many years ago when he challenged the country to send astronauts to the lunar surface, this business is hard. But this team was up to the challenge then, and we will rise above it again as we reach even greater heights in the years ahead.

We have learned so much about exploring new horizons. In our endeavors, we’ve also come to realize that there is so much out there for us to discover. I often tell my team that Kennedy is the linchpin to NASA's new undertakings because we are, and always have been, the nation's premier launch site. This complex still is a national resource, but it will take the continued support of this community to take bold new steps in space.

It was difficult to say farewell to our beloved Space Hhuttles and the many folks who dedicated their lives to that phenomenal program. I hope that each one of you gets the opportunity to visit the shuttle Atlantis once it's on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It might help you understand the sheer magnitude of what can be accomplished when you combine tenacity with innovative thinking and the ability to adapt.

The agency recently entrusted us with its newest human spaceflight program, a first for the center. In partnership with the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Commercial Crew Program at Kennedy is spurring the innovation and development of commercial spacecraft and launch vehicles to transport our astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

We'll also be the starting point for NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, which will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Our Launch Services Program is as busy as ever, too, gearing up for at least 25 missions to study places such as Mars, Pluto and our sun.

It's hard to convey everything that our center is working on right now, but rest assured we are busier than ever. Our lights are still on, our doors are still open and the list of extraordinary things we plan to accomplish in this lifetime is long.


U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams
The former Orange County deputy sheriff and state legislator represents Florida's 24th District

NASA and the aerospace industries are a symbol of pride and honor for our country and represent the best hopes and ideals of our nation.

The issues surrounding the development of space technology and the continued use of human spaceflight in the United States are among my highest economic priorities for the Space Coast. This will continue to be the centerpiece of my focus as a member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee. NASA's future space missions are critical to the continued development of new technologies, as well as our high-tech infrastructure in Central Florida that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

Our country needs to set a clear path to success for NASA and we need to have a defined way forward, something that so far this administration has been unable to provide. As a member of the Space Subcommittee, I have worked with my colleagues to help create stability and a clear plan for the future of the space industry. Continuing to give NASA the resources they need is only a small piece of what we are facing and it is important to think beyond the most immediate needs.

The truth is that because of President Obama’s decision to cancel Constellation without a follow-up program ready for implementation, America’s space program is currently forced to rely on foreign nations, like Russia and China, to send our astronauts to the International Space Station. To fill that void between the end of the Space Shuttle program and when the next NASA program is operational, Congress has helped to support the development of commercial endeavors to meet the need to send rockets into low-Earth orbit. I have been a strong proponent of this program as a part of our overall space strategy, as it guarantees American access to space and promotes a viable private-sector collaboration with NASA’s existing and future programs.

Throughout my time in the Florida Legislature, and today in Congress, I have worked closely with Space Florida to help bring local companies to the Space Coast. My office has been working with entrepreneurs looking to move their companies to Central Florida, and I have served as a liaison with Space Florida, the Governor’s Office, and these job creators to help find ways to bring new jobs to the Space Coast. The good news is, we have seen some success luring firms here to take advantage of the low taxes, educated work force, and business friendly local governments looking to help advance an American space program once again.

NASA and the companies that have been created as a result of the space program contribute billions of dollars to the local economy. People have made their livelihoods and continue to base their future plans on the support of the space program – this is no small matter. This impact is not lost on me and as long as I am in the House of Representatives, it will not be lost on my colleagues.

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey
U.S. Representative, 15th District

Space is not simply the final frontier, it is the military high ground.

The reality today is that if we fail to lead the world in space we would jeopardize our national security and our economic security. Russia and China are redoubling their investments in space and they are nipping at our heels, threatening our dominance of space. In fact, today and for the near term, the only means we have of getting our astronauts into space is paying the Russians over $60 million per astronaut to hitch a ride to the space station.

Some have wrongly suggested that we cannot afford to invest in space, but the reality is that we can ill afford not to invest in space. Our investments in space not only help us maintain the advantage militarily, but this drives our technological advantage. This, in turn, keeps us on the cutting edge economically.

Just how much do we spend on NASA? NASA’s budget represents less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget. That’s about a half a penny out of every dollar spent each year. Looked at another way, we spend nearly five times as much each year on food stamps as we spend on NASA.

In early 2009, the Obama administration decided to abruptly cancel NASA’s Constellation program that was designed to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. Since then, it took more than two years for NASA to regain its footing, yet there is still a lack of a clear direction for the future. That is why I introduced H.R. 1641, the Real Space Act, bipartisan legislation giving NASA a clear mission moving forward – returning to the moon.

We need a robust NASA program and we need a robust commercial program.

According to the Space Foundation’s Space Report 2012, Russia is currently recognized as the world’s “most-frequent launch provider” with 31 launches in 2011, followed by China with 19 and the U.S. with 18. And while the U.S. currently has no domestic means of putting a U.S. astronaut into space, China and Russia both have that capability.

In order to help spur the commercial space market here on the Space Coast and across America, I introduced the Race for Space Act to allow the Department of Defense and private industry to share existing space facilities such as launch pads. Current law prohibits the DOD from accepting reimbursements from non-federal entities like commercial space companies in order to upgrade existing launch infrastructure to make them launch ready.

Access to launch sites and infrastructure is key to jumpstarting the U.S. commercial space industry and what the Race for Space Act does is enable commercial space providers to better compete globally in the commercial market as well as incentivize commercial space providers to launch from U.S. soil instead of from launch sites outside of the U.S.

The Race for Space Act was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act and passed the House unanimously. It is currently in the Senate waiting to be reviewed.

Several commercial space companies are already choosing Florida’s Space Coast as their new home. SpaceX launched a successful cargo mission from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station in May of this year and will launch a second mission in the coming months.

Utah-based company Rocket Crafters announced that it plans to build a manufacturing plant along the Space Coast. This company plans to hire 500 to 1,000 employees, which is positive news. But one year later after the Space Shuttle’s retirement, we are only beginning to recover from the more than 7,000 direct jobs that were lost.

This transition could have been smoother, but it was not. We could have closed the U.S. human space flight gap so that we were not reliant on the Russians, but sadly, the administration showed no interest in considering H.R. 1962, the American Space Access Act, bipartisan legislation I offered to close the space gap and keep America first in space.
Protecting our nation and creating jobs in the 21st Century will require our leaders to put forward a bold vision for human space flight.


Frank DiBello
President, CEO, Space Florida

The U.S. space program and Florida are indeed going through a trying period of transition.

However, this is the inevitable result of retiring a massive federal program through which a standing army of workers was sustained for decades. Thousands of lost jobs was our destiny regardless of what future programs NASA and the Congress agreed to fund. This fate was determined with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program announced by President Bush in 2004.

We knew then we’d be relying on the Russians for a few years to get to space. Our elected delegations in both Washington and Tallahassee, as well as our state and local economic development organizations, have been preparing ever since.

When President Obama took office, he added two more shuttle flights to more fully prepare the International Space Station for the long absence of a U.S. launch vehicle. But he also canceled the planned follow-on Constellation program to take us back to the moon. That program, as so many before it, had been increasingly plagued with eroding technical performance, hemorrhaging budgets and wasn’t going to get us to the moon for 20 years, if then.

The question now is, “What does the future hold for the space program nationally, and in Florida?”

At the  federal level, the plan is a balanced approach to space exploration. First, private companies will now provide access to low earth orbit (LEO). This achievement was first accomplished over 50 years ago and it is appropriate to turn over this task to the efficiency and innovation of America’s commercial sector. By turning over LEO access to industry we free up NASA to do what the country and the world have come to expect of it, which is to do what hasnever been done before. Specifically, that task is to expand mankind’s footprint beyond LEO and out into the solar system.

The new rocket for the next great step beyond LEO is now called the Space Launch Syste (SLS). It is a traditional heavy-lift vehice that builds on the legacy of Space Shuttle technology. The new spacecraft to carry astronauts to the moon, Mars or asteroids is known as Orion. Although it looks much like the original Apollo capsule, it is much bigger and dramatically more capable. Work on both is proceeding.

Although there are many hundreds of jobs at KSC working to prepare for that next bold missio with SLS and Orion, we won’t see a launch beyond LEO with astronauts until later in the next decade. The immediate future for Florida, and the new excitement in the community, comes from the commercial crew and cargo developments. Their success will spell an exciting new chapter in America’s proud tradition of exploration, and it’s a development for which Florida is uniquely positioned.

That other countries are now also pursuing the challenge of space exploration is at once, a challenge, an opportunity, and inevitable. Is there competition? Yes. But the U.S. still spends more on its space programs than the rest of the world combined. Granted, its only less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget, but it remains a point of pride for all Americans.

The recent passing of Sally Ride, a true American hero, draws this transition in U.S. space policy into stark relief. Her exploits as the first U.S. female astronaut began the shuttle as our only vehicle for human spaceflight, condemned only to LEO, but only a few years ago she so ably served on the President’s Augustine Commission, which did so much to move us to a more sustainable, flexible and exciting future. We owe it to her and all those she inspired to continue to fulfill our destiny as explorers of the cosmos.


John Walker
Directing Business Representative, Lodge 166, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers,

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the premier aerospace union in the U.S. It has been part of the space program from its inception and our members have been proud to be part of the history we’ve made.

The U.S. space program was built with cutting-edge skills and knowledge in Florida. The workers who made sure the shuttle made it to the pad for successful launches had years of experience and a tribal knowledge that was passed on, worker to worker and program to program. Of course, workers of this caliber are often in demand within the aerospace industry and they have moved on to other jobs.

They had no choice; they have to provide for their families. But the lack of foresight by Congress does more damage than anyone can know.

The idea of having shoe-string startup companies doing space is nonsensical. You can’t “Walmartize” the space program. Make no mistake, losing this workforce puts us years, if not decades, back. Training a workforce takes far longer than most people realize. As we all understand, putting rockets and people into space is an unforgiving endeavor, and there’s no room for error. You need the very best people for the job, not just the scientists and engineers, but the highly-skilled workforce that are the hands-on technicians whose experience and attention to detail are vital to a successful launch.

Our space program has paid dividends in discoveries in science and real-world technological spin-offs. The space program isn’t a cost; it’s an investment, one that will be sorely missed.

While our Congress has decided to rest on our past accomplishments, other nations see our lack of forward-thinking as an opportunity to permanently move ahead of us, and take the obvious economic and scientific benefits for themselves, leaving us in their dust.

If we wish to remain a dominate political, scientific and economic power, we need to rethink and recommit to the obvious benefits of a strong and varied manned and unmanned space program. We must also remember that on the national security front, space has always been the “high ground” that we must keep in order to keep our nation safe.

Our future demands that we realize what we are losing if we continue upon our present course. I can’t understand why we would ever give that up willingly.


Joe Saunders

It's one of the most memorable scenes in movie history: The Pan-Am Clipper shuttling from Earth to a space station near the beginning of “2001 Space Odyssey,” combining the absolutely familiar with an out-of-this-world future that gave the movie's 1968 audiences a sense of where they were and an idea of where they were going.

It would be nice to have that sense of where we're going today.

On Friday, according to Florida Today, NASA announced more than $1 billion in contracts were awarded to Boeing Co., SpaceX and the Sierra Nevada Corp. to develop designs to launch commercial flights between Earth and the International Space Station by 2016. The three companies are all developing systems to launch from Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center, the paper reported.

That's all well and good. In fact, it's fantastic. But it's also at least four years away – about 15 years behind the Arthur Clarke-Stanley Kubrick projection, and a long, long way from what most Americans of the past two or three generations had in mind when we thought about those magical years that would come after The Year Two Thousand.

I remember when Columbia first launched in 1981, watching it on television and the talk then of the time coming soon when shuttle launches would be so common they wouldn't even be on TV. Do they put news crews at every airport to watch planes take off for Europe? Of course not. Happens all the time.

Thirty-one years later – after Challenger exploded en route to the heavens in 1986; after Columbia, God bless her, died in a fireball in 2003, 16 minutes from home – shuttle launches are still on national television because they're still news. And they're still news because we don't seem to have the sense of purpose that planted an American flag on the moon eight years after JFK declared it the goal to reach “before this decade is out.”

Need some reasons to get that sense of purpose back?

National security: As several of our writers here said, space is the ultimate “high ground,” and when push comes to shove, high ground is a mighty fine thing to have. Peaceful intentions are great things, but all the treaties in the world aren't going to change the way world works. Not in the lifetime of anyone reading this, anyway.

Technological advancements: Spinoffs from space exploration are part of our daily lives on the ground, from medicine to communications to home insulation, and will continue to be. The computer you're reading this on, the credit card you bought it with and the power that's running it – whether a cord or a battery – work the way they do in some measure because of the space program.

Financial: There's no getting around it, and no reason to be defensive about it. NASA salaries, NASA spending and NASA tourism are the backbone of the Space Coast economy, and a big part of Florida's as a whole. But this isn't West Virginia, with endless miles of federal highways pocked with seemingly endless facilities named some variation of "Robert C. Byrd ..." It's one area of government spending that deserves the word “investment.” And it pays off (see reasons 1 and 2.)

So, there's nothing in Friday's announcement that's bad news -- not for the country, for private business, for the state, or for Brevard County and its surrounding region. And it will be nice to see Florida – the Space Shuttle-quarter state – linked again as firmly in the national mind to manned space flights as it is to beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, and botched elections.

But that's four years from now, at least. Until then, as Representative Posey notes, we'll be relying on the Russians to get American astronauts to the International Space Station and back – and paying a pretty penny for them to do it.

A Pan Am Clipper it ain't.

(p.s. I wrote this before the Curiousity rover landed on Mars early Monday morning. It's 1:40 a.m. Eastern right now, and the folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are being webcast on nasa.gov showing plenty of passion as the first images come back after a perfect landing. It's not a manned mission. It's not a Pan-Am Clipper. But it's still pretty damn cool. -- Joe)

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by Dr. Radut.