Last Thursday, I attended the 14th annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, where each year policymakers and technical experts share their insights and discuss the direction of this emerging industry.
Now, in his State of the Union speech, President Obama talked about what it will take to secure our economic future. The President said we have to out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world. And no one is innovating more than the men and women who are building America’s commercial space industry.
Commercial space--with untapped opportunities for transport, tourism, and economic development--is the next frontier in America's transportation system. This is not science fiction; it's a truly exciting moment.
Today we see an ever-increasing number of nations and organizations using space to observe and study our Earth, create new markets and new technologies, support global communications and international finance, and enhance security. Whether we're aware of it or not, the benefits from our use of space touch our lives every day.
Our use of space requires transporting satellites, people, and supplies to low earth orbit. For nearly three decades, that task has been largely handled by the Space Shuttle. Now, with only a few shuttle missions left, private companies are stepping up to meet the need. And they will continue to do so with increasing frequency. In fact, we've already approved more than 200 launches and eight spaceports.
We know that commercial space transportation is a dangerous pursuit, but we also know that it’s important to American businesses. DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration want to be as supportive of these activities as possible. So we have to figure out how to help the private sector assume responsibility for taking cargo and customers to low earth orbit reliably, effectively, and--most important of all--safely.
As FAA Aministrator Randy Babbitt said, "If a project doesn’t have the word safety at the top of its list, you won’t be successful and you’re not going to be in business very long. The predicate for success must be safety."
We recognize that this is a time to encourage innovation, a time to explore new ways of working, and a time to re-imagine the relationship between government and industry. And we’ve already begun to do just that with three initiatives:
- Expanding the Spaceport Grant Program;
- Standing up a center of excellence for commercial space transportation at New Mexico State University; and
- Laying groundwork for a DOT-FAA office on the Space Coast that keeps America’s best and brightest working in Florida – and supporting the emerging commercial space industry.
This is only a starting point. As the pace of private sector innovation accelerates, we need to answer a few key questions. How do we make space travel more routine while upholding the highest standards for safety? How do we make it more affordable? How do we assemble all the pieces of this complicated puzzle?
No one would mistake these for easy questions, But think of the possibilities if we get this right.
And I know we will. Because that’s what Americans do. We’re innovators. We’re builders. And if we tap the American spirit of dreaming big and building big, the future is ours to win.