This quote from John Pierce, the man who supervised the development of the transistor at Bell Labs, provides a relevant perspective worth sharing, regarding the risk/reward equation New Mexico has embarked on with the spaceport; “Regrettably, the language that describes innovations often fails to distinguish between an innovative consumer product and an innovation that represents a leap in human knowledge and a new foundation (or “platform,” as it is often described) for industry. Things should be done only when there is the possibility of a substantial gain, and this must be weighed against risk.”
This week I was at the Capitol when Senate Bill passed the Informed Consent legislation. It allows for continuation of not only Spaceport America as a “platform” for commercial space transportation of humans into space, but also Virgin Galactic’s “platforms”, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. All three will provide leaps in human knowledge and a new foundation for human space transportation. Mankind has created 5 transportation industries; ground, sea, rail, air and space transportation. We use all of these industries to transport goods and people across the globe, and to space.
Henry Ford’s new “platform”, the Model T, transformed manufacturing, our road system, the oil and gas industry and spun off auto dealerships, and created the consumer automotive industry. Boeing’s 707 “platform” transformed international travel, which spun off services like car rentals at airports, hotels designed for the traveling business executive and resort destinations like Disney World and Disney Europe.
Spaceport America will provide a new platform for thousands of personal experience for travelers who come to New Mexico. For a very small fee, they will participate in the emerging commercial space transportation industry. The space industry’s platform for the consumer will first open in New Mexico. The visitor experience portion of the Spaceport America launch site will create an industry unto itself.
In 2008, I was at the launch of Shuttle Discovery STS 124. STS stands for Space Transportation System. This mission carried the Japanese Kibo “Hope” Laboratory, the first human research module to be installed on the International Space Station. Leading up to the launch, NASA took thousands of students to the launch site for individual tours of Kennedy Space Center, showed them films of the labs, and also provided time for the Japanese students to mingle with American students. On the morning of the launch, I was waiting in a very long line at Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee before heading back to the staging site for the busses that would take us to Banana Island. Banana Island was NASA’s official visitor’s observation for Shuttle launches. It was 4 miles from the Shuttle launch pad.
Behind me in line were two families from Canada. They were on vacation in Georgia and decided, on the spur of the moment, to drive to Florida to see the Shuttle launch. I was wearing my NASA 50 Year Anniversary pin. I always feel a sense of pride that I work with such an amazing agency as NASA. I turned to the people behind me and asked, who was it that talked the rest of you into coming? They all pointed to one of the husbands. I took off my pin and gave it to him on behalf of all the people who work at NASA. Tears and big smiles emerged simultaneously. As we talked and waited in line, I asked them where they were going to observe the launch. They had scouted a site on Coco Beach and were headed off to Wal-Mart for chairs, chips, sodas and a cooler. Thousands of tourists flocked to Coco Beach to just sit on the side of the freeway to watch the launch. Then they head off to Disney World, EPSOT Center, maybe visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame or the NASCAR race track.
On my flight home, I sat next to the District Manager for a Coke. He was headed to a meeting in Houston. I asked him how the company was strategizing for the shutdown of the Shuttle program in Florida. Visitors to Florida for each launch were calculated to be 10,000 plus. He looked at me like my hair just caught fire. “Whadday mean- shut down? I didn’t know that.”
The risk of evolving these new platforms, Spaceport America, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo meet a high standard for platforms that will create leaps in human knowledge. On behalf of those who work on this project from our legislators to our Governor, congratulations on one a definitive step forward for New Mexico.