Vision without execution is hallucination.
I am a worker bee. That’s my deal, I like to work. When I describe what I do I say I work in the space industry and point up- that space. If I said I was a dog walker, or a home builder or even an eye surgeon, we’d have a conversation. As an experiment, I’d like to say I’m a funeral director to see if it’s a different experience. But you get it, funeral directors and folks in the space industry we just don’t get the follow up question. Our industry is still abstract. I’m working on it. And so are a lot of people in our community.
By now Christine Anderson the Executive Director of Spaceport America has heard enough goofy complaints and suggestion about what to do with the spaceport to probably last her a lifetime. She is not a drinking woman, although I would understand if she had been in the Hotel El Dorado with the Governor over Christmas lobbing snowballs out the window, etc. Yet, likely she was working. And indeed walking her dog is something she enjoys. The space industry in our town is personal. Not some abstract far away business. There are people who go to work every day to make this commercial space industry successful. They are our neighbors, they have children.
Lee Cotter was born here. He went to school here, his father taught at NMSU. He’s known about the spaceport for years. He built two buildings for my husband and I when we first started in business in 1974. Lee is a hard worker and also deeply committed to improving the lives of people in our community. I think we are having a Mark Twain moment here, people like progress, they just don’t like change.
Builders help create the dreams of their customers. They do not just build houses, they also build our future. Talking about the future and doing something about it are often as far apart as the earth is from the moon. We citizen of Dona Ana County have decided to build a future that includes commercial space transportation capability for transporting humans to and from space. We have talked about it since 1945. Our Governor Jack Campbell sent a letter to President Kennedy asking for support to build an inland spaceport. There are 10 licensed spaceports in the United States. There are other spaceports planned across the globe. We need hundreds of spaceports, just like we need thousands of air ports. More is better in this case.
If your Direct TV feed did not work last Sunday during the Super Bowl, you’d complain. Loudly. If you build a satellite and something goes wrong, it’s not possible to bring it back or go fix it. If your garage door stops working it’s an easy fix.
Arthur Clarke, author of a Space Odyssey 2001, was a visionary. He believed in a global telecommunications industry and wrote about it as early as 1945. In 1964 he saw his vision of global telecommunications via satellites become a reality with the Delta launch system. It was America’s most affordable longest serving launch system and placed the first geostationary communication satellite Syncom 3 into orbit. It was used to broadcast the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to the United States. The transistors used in Syncom were developed in the 1930s. No one really understood how to use transistors to make money until the space industry. The space industry enabled the telecommunications industry which brought the Super Bowl to millions of viewers across the globe.
We are launching technologies to space from the spaceport and have done so every year except one since 2009. Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000, was a few years ahead of us in executing his vision for a private space company. Yet, their most recent launch in January will be followed by another in summer. Blue’s first 3 customers are universities. NMSU was on the first rocket from the spaceport. Richard Branson licensed the technology to build SpaceShipTwo from Paul Allen in 2005, and started building in 2007. Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle will one day carry people. They may beat Virgin Galactic to be the first to fly humans to space on a commercial vehicle from a commercial spaceport. They too had a catastrophic mishap which destroyed their vehicle. But they kept going. Virgin Galactic has kept going. Competition is good. Winning is better.
Blue Origin is now building engines for United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is the company that launches satellites for the Air Force, and the company still operating the Delta system. They are looking to survive in this new competitive commercial space environment. Space X will soon be launching satellites for the Air Force. The visionaries at ULA started looking years ago to partner with smaller commercial companies like Blue Origin. Northrup Grumman is working with Virgin Galactic to build the Department of Defense’s next spaceship. These companies are in the space business. It’s tough, and they don’t mind.
Those of you who are looking backwards, you already know where you’ve been. Looking forward is far more interesting. If you have a dream then get to work. Otherwise, well, you know.