09/24/2012 05:56 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

We Are Here to Build a NewSpace Industry


As I watch the U.S. election process unfold, it is sad to see the amazing revolution that is the birth of a new U.S. commercial space industry ignored or, worse, trivialized and undercut by those who should be its champions.

The iconic example of this occurred months ago, when the congressman in charge of approving NASA's budget said (paraphrasing), "We are not here to build a spaceflight industry. We are here to get NASA a launch system ASAP" -- as tens of millions of dollars were cut from programs to invest in commercial space, and millions were allowed to be wasted on the Senate Launch System and other dead-end state-run space transportation programs.

His words were an almost exact refutation of something I have said repeatedly, and even months later they echo in my mind -- especially in this election period. This is not because I have any issue with the congressman. It is not because he paraphrased me in his comments, nor even because his words were said in the middle of a head-spinning debate that has pitted pro-socialist-space-program Republicans against a pro-enterprise Democratic president.

It is because his statement shows that even as it is happening, even as one can turn on the news and see commercial spaceships berthing with the space station, and new companies being created almost monthly to build private space stations, fly paying customers into space, and even mine asteroids, the political class simply doesn't "get it." It also highlights the huge divide between those working for a new American future in space and those fighting to save the status quo -- and how those of us working for the commercial development and settlement of space and those caught in the old "NASA is space" paradigm are talking completely past each other.

It is also not just because I believe that we need to develop and settle space as a national imperative that I think the congressman was absolutely wrong. He is wrong because he and those like him are missing the point.

We are here to build a new commercial space industry, or at least we should be, not just because it will free up NASA to focus on exploration and inspiring new missions like the recent Mars landing; not just because we may be able to retake the beach of the Moon and this time hold it; not just because by doing so we can begin an upwards and self-growing employment spiral that means hundreds of thousands of jobs a few years downstream; not just because by doing so we will be in a position to deal with global warming when the time comes for mega solutions; but also because it will assure that we never again find ourselves in the pathetic position of having to buy rides into space from another nation for our government employees, and instead will be selling rides to the citizens of other nations on our ships.

As long as we are focused merely on how to get NASA a ride into space, or how NASA will explore space for the taxpayers instead of working with them to open a new frontier, we are doomed to repeat the same loop that gave us nothing to show for Apollo but flags and footprints, nothing to show for the space shuttle but museum displays, and nothing to show for the space station but fantastic astronaut photographs from space on Facebook -- doomed to taking and retaking the beach of the frontier and never being able to hold it, let alone profit from it or expand our presence there. Because government can't do that job. Only people can, people in the form of companies, organizations, and, yes, eventually communities and families.

It is time to change the discussion. In fact, it is time to change the entire basis of the discussion and the reason we are having it at all. It is time for this nation to develop and settle the frontier, not just visit or explore it. Develop and settle -- then do it again, and again, and again.

Because everything today is about money, let's look at it this way: The American people have agreed to spend $18 billion of their hard-earned money on space. Of that, let's say $10 billion is to be spent on activities involving humans. I say it is time to spend that money on not just pretending we will someday carry a few government employees out to visit the frontier on government rockets that never get built as part of programs that always get cancelled, but to invest it in enabling and creating the systems, the industries, and the economy that will allow us to live, prosper, and multiply there -- and which will multiply our investment along the way.

It is time to kickstart a new U.S. space transportation industry, and time to spread that industry into space itself, leveraging our space station legacy to ignite imaginations and entrepreneurship so that we can move farther out, back to the Moon, out to the asteroids, and on to Mars.

Imagine, in each of these cases, if instead of investing in a short-term single activity or piece of hardware, we invested in an economic industrial base to provide and build on the achievement of the announced goal. Instead of a generation that doesn't remember the Moon missions or even doubts that we ever went there, we would by now have thriving communities there.

Instead of a wave of unemployed rocket builders and support personnel, we would have spaceships filling the sky, paychecks filling the wallets of space workers, and thriving space centers doing important research in districts across the nation.

And instead of a $100-billion boondoggle known as the Space Launch System sucking the life out of our space program, we would have an orbital industrial infrastructure, raining down profits, processes, and patents on the U.S. economy.

Yes, Mr. Congressman, yes we are about building a new commercial space industry, one that will assure American access to space based on multiple means and multiple technologies that will not only save us billions but generate income and jobs. Yes, we are about leading the world in science, exploration, and education, as NASA is freed from the yoke of trying to pull its own wagon and can allow its employees to reach out and touch the edge of what is possible. And yes, we are about giving the taxpayers a real and ever-growing return on the hundreds of billions they have invested in the dream.

To the congressman and the others entrusted with our money and dreams, you owe us much more than short-term solutions that solve nothing. Show us some vision. Show us some real, long-term, rational thinking -- even if it is self-serving in the end -- because your constituents will benefit! Spend their money wisely this time. Put it into something that will give back more than they spend.

NewSpace, commercial space, whatever you want to call it, is rising, with or without government support. It is rising in west Texas, and on the Gulf Coast, in California, and on the Virginia coast, and rising from the ashes of the old space program in Florida, and in small shops and university labs in a hundred places in between. It is rising because citizens are investing their own money, sweat, and time to make it happen. It is the people's program, and it is about putting people in space, lots and lots of them, in lots and lots of places, using lots and lots of rocketships and systems. It is also about putting jobs in your town and money in the pockets of new space workers, engineers, and, yes, scientists and researchers who will be able to afford to do lots more science faster and for a lot less money.

You need to get this, sir: The NewSpace revolution is not just about how the people can support NASA and the government but about how NASA and the government can support the people -- so everyone wins.

So trust the people. Trust in our economic system and the genius and hard work of our citizens beyond the mandate and control of government. Trust that we all share the same dream, and use the funds we give you the right way -- by investing in us.

I promise you will make our money back -- and much more.

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