By: Jeff Bartelli
On August 6th, NASA Mars rover Curiosity will land in Gale Crater. The rover’s primary mission is tosearch for clues of present or past life on Mars. The secondary mission of the rover is to demonstrate American prestige and leadership in space.
Earlier this year, Space X became the first private company to dock a spacecraft to the International Space Station before the craft returned to the surface of the earth. This mission was partially financed and supported by NASA in an effort to replace the retired space shuttle. The Space X mission also served to demonstrate American prestige and leadership in space.
Space X is only one of many companies active in the private space sector in the United States. These companies are seeking to fill many roles in a variety of nascent and developed industries. Some of these companies will fail while others will become the mega-corporations of tomorrow. Consequently, these firms are some of the job creators we need to support. Forget the automotive manufacturing plants of fifty years ago, these companies are employing highly skilled people and paying handsomely. If the U.S. government is concerned with prestige, leadership, and jobs, then ensuring the success of the private space sector is critical to our future.
Two issues need to be addressed to secure space industries: regulation and education. Regarding regulation, space firms must go through convoluted licensing processes that involve numerous federal and state agencies, just to conduct business. Laws banning the transmission of certain technologies further hinder the operation of these companies. A coherent, national policy and set of laws must be drafted to facilitate commercial space operations while ensuring that US companies lead and dominate in outer space. This includes a consolidated national agency for managing manufacturing, space launch, and orbital activities: sort of a cross between NASA and the FAA.
Regarding education, the commercial space sector requires a large number of skilled and educated workers. Ideally these people should be from the United States. This requires an education system that is focused on generating a high quality and well-trained workforce. At present, many firms have job openings for highly skilled tradespeople and engineers that cannot be filled fast enough. US education from the primary to tertiary level must be recalibrated to place an emphasis on math and science (among many other topics).
Politicians must realize that developing new industries is more productive and less costly than propping up old ones. A policy of looking to the future rather than living in the past will help to insure that the United States remains a global leader throughout the 21st century.