NASA may make the announcement this week on the final selection of the private company or companies they will work with to return American astronauts to the International Space Station on space vehicles Made In America, not Russia. This is part of the NASA Commercial Crew Development program. I have written about women from New Mexico who are making a difference in the space industry. The last in this series is a short focus on Kathy Lueters, the Program Manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Kathryn is an NMSU graduate from the College of Engineering. When our universities, government and industry leaders engage in the commercial space industry, the benefits will keep coming.
NASA human spaceflight personnel and partners are the ultimate stone polishers, perfectionists. Developing transportation for our astronauts on our own vehicles is a clear message the technologies exist in the private commercial industrial base. This change it is kick starting the private launch vehicle development business in our country. Those private or commercial launch vehicles, rockets or space planes, need commercial spaceports.
The discussion regarding the spaceport tax is one indicator of a common engineering practice in emerging industries as we re-visit the way funds will be distributed. During a telecom last week with Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Bob Richards, we discussed the common practice he is familiar with technology companies. He said, “Companies stumble along in the beginning. We build platforms that will evolve an eco-system that allows business to exist, but we keep iterating. It is the rapid build cycles that align with investor confidence. We don’t polish the stone, we keep iterating and these bite size incremental improvements help us encourage additional investor rounds.”
Last week I also met with eight members of SCORE to not only discuss the larger commercial space industry, but also to talk about jobs growing into at the spaceport. Before I started my presentation, I asked them who are the customers of SCORE? Some are dreamers they said. This is America; people have dreams of starting their own businesses. SCORE is there to help the dreamers avoid the pitfalls before, not after they start their businesses. There is a lot to learn about the space business, it is hard and very rewarding.
People say space programs inspire them. True, it is a business that is inspiring, but it is not for dreamers. Getting humans routinely to space is as difficult is a monumentally difficult set of tasks. Routine access for humans to space goes slower than some of the technologies we use to send satellites to space. It is very difficult to do right every time, but with humans on board, it is necessary to get it right every time. It is necessary to polish the stone.
Now that Spaceport America is almost finished, our next steps are to prepare the support systems for the humans who are the focus on the industry we are building here in partnership with Virgin Galactic. Virgin is working on the space ship. It is a stone they are polishing well. In the meantime, as a community, government, industry and academic leaders have work to do.
Virgin Galactic will succeed. Keep your eyes on their test program. When you see WhiteKnight2 and SpaceShip2 at Spaceport America know it will be too late for our community to prepare. To keep our competitive edge, we need a road to the spaceport providing access from the west and south. There is a road for travelers coming from the north, Albuquerque business leaders are preparing. Providing access to the spaceport is job one now. Put first things first. We need that road. Government, industry leaders, must work this out this legislative session.
In the beginning, we made some decisions that now are being revisited. The spaceport tax was always intended to be an investment. The original language in the legislation was broadly written. Funds distribution must be revisited. Think big, don’t worry about investing in small bits and reiterating. What are we doing to create a visitor’s experience in this community to retain the hundreds of people who will come here? We have time now. Let Virgin Galactic polish the rock. Business leaders, take some little bets to create a destination home for this new industry. All members of this community can help, I have mentioned four superior women leaders, and of course, Chris Anderson is the Executive Director of Spaceport America. Let’s keep moving forward.