Did you ever notice the relationship between the difficulty of getting into something and your willingness to get out? To put it another way, the more time and energy, sweat, blood and toil invested in creating a relationship, a business, or a space program, the less willingness over time there is to get out. And how important is the – “other woman, company or rocket” in the whole thing? Do we as a nation want to have a robust space program, able to spin off a commercial space industry while achieving scientific and engineering feats like the Mars Rover Programs, and the upcoming James Webb Telescope mission. Do we as a nation want the truly remarkable capability demonstrated by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGS) that played a key role in the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden? Or, do we just not want anyone else to have supremacy? Ask yourself, once you get to the top, then what? Do you just go down the hill and relax? Do you have respect for those who walk away even if there is clearly more work to do?
Tomorrow, the Endeavour orbiter will launch for the last time. I remember why we built the Endeavour. We built it because we lost the Challenger, and we were grounded for over two years. Even in 1991, there was discussion about retiring the shuttle program. We knew then, the technology was aging, the program was far more expensive than originally forecast. But, the nation was reliant on the Russians to get us to space and we didn’t like that at all. So, we pressed on. Now, twenty years later, this is the last mission for Endeavour. We will be reliant on the Russians again to get us to space, but something is different now. COTS. We are aiming for another type of supremacy in space. Affordable access to space.
In 2006, during the presidency of George W. Bush, NASA, began the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Our nation determined to fund the development of commercial space vehicles in partnership with private companies. COTS began what we hoped would be a beautiful relationship, the public/private partnership that would take the government out of the business of owning and running launch vehicles.
NASA would pay for performance, providing milestone-based payments. COTS does not involve binding contracts. If the company fails to deliver, they can be removed from the program. And their funds re-competed. Unlike any previous NASA project, the proposed spacecraft are intended to be owned and financed primarily by the companies themselves and will be designed to serve both U.S. government agencies and commercial customers. NASA will contract for missions as its needs become clear.
Tomorrow, Endeavour is scheduled to launch at 8:56 EST at a cost of $1.6 billion. The mission, which is expected to last 16 days, will be the 134th and next to last in the 30-year shuttle program, with only a flight by the Atlantis, scheduled for this summer, remaining. I plan to watch this launch. On Friday, May 20th, my program has is launching 27 student experiments to space at Spaceport America. This rocket cost $250,000. Watch this launch at www.launchnm.com
New Mexico is working through the difficulties facing our launch facility. Kennedy Space Center is facing difficulty regarding the future of their launch complex. Florida has a huge aging launch complex, what do you do with that place? We have a brand new, lean, clearly commercially focused, facility that faces constant questioning about its future. Well, at least we are consistent at both ends of the spectrum. Do we stay in or do we get out? Florida is staying in. Their state, like ours has a robust history in the space industry. They have tremendous talent, and reaped untold benefits from the space program, and now they face a new space industry. One of the COTS winners, SpaceX, remodeled Space Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center. It is from this launch complex, they intent to re-supply the International Space Station. It’s one small victory for the Cape. At our spaceport, the UP Aerospace company continues to be the only company consistently commercially launching experiments to space from the spaceport. That’s why I use this company. It is a small victory to have this company at the spaceport. There is work to do. I realize there is no clear path yet, no clear justification, why go to space? Right now, it’s like a tough job. Feet on the floor, butt out the door.