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The Honorable Tidal W. McCoy

Space Vision For 2050 (And Today) Testimony by the Honorable Tidal W. McCoy, STA Chairman Before the U.S. Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry

Date Released: Monday, May 13, 2002
Source: Space Transportation Association

Space Vision For 2050 (And Today)
Testimony by the Honorable Tidal W. McCoy
Chairman, Space Transportation Association
Before the U.S. Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry
Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Mr. Chairman and members of the commission:

On behalf of the Space Transportation Association and its member companies thank-you for this opportunity to give our vision for the next half-century of space development. I shall also be submitting more detailed written testimony for the record.

Visions are relatively easy to formulate, particularly this far into the future. Few of us will still be around to see how accurate our predictions were. But clearly the space program of 2050 should be one of expanding human presence in space and full exploitation of the space environment for our national economic and security needs. The world of that distant time, like our own world today, will depend on space assets and activity to sustain a growing economy and superior technological advance.

Superiority is the key word to describe that space effort of 2050.

Superiority in space science, in exploration, in commercial development, and in defense.

Superiority in the development and use of space technology in the service of our nation's national interests. Our roadmap to that destination would include the routine operation of advanced cargo vehicles, piloted and autonomous spaceships flying regularly from a multitude of inland and coastal spaceports, full industrial and scientific exploitation of low Earth orbit, research and scientific installations on both the Lunar surface and the Red Planet, all supported by a fleet of space stations at varying orbital locations.

Does this roadmap sound familiar? Well, it should.

It was published in the pages of a popular magazine- in 1952, some fifty years ago.

But Wernher Von Braun's vision of space which electrified the world when published in Collier's magazine has yet to be fully achieved.

Not because we have had a lack of vision. Far from it. We've had more than enough vision and visionaries. What we have lacked has been the commitment and purpose to achieve those visions.

If we want, as a nation, to grow to see that expanding space program of 2050, we must start today to lay its foundation. To sustain that commitment will require more money, and making space a higher national priority, than our leaders have done in the past decade.

Visions are cheap to formulate.

But not easy to achieve.

Here are four key steps that the Space Transportation Association believes would set us on the path to space superiority in 2050 if started today:

  • A sustained national program of technological research that addresses the challenges of living and working in space
  • An expansion of the human spaceflight program organized around a central goal
  • A healthy U.S. aerospace industrial base and modernized space facilities
  • Affordable, reliable, and safe access to space made possible by a mature reusable launch vehicle fleet

To return Americans to the Moon and prepare them for flight beyond Earth orbit will require investments in research and development far greater than those we make today. They will approach the levels spent on space research when the Space Age began in 1957. Yet NASA's R&D spending today is but a small fraction of its earlier levels. In fact, the entire NASA budget today adjusted for inflation, is less than half of what it was in 1993, less than a decade ago. The current budget for fiscal year 2003 is called "flat". I call it a going-out-of-business budget for any hope of advanced space goals. Therefore STA is working with members of Congress to increase the NASA topline by $500 million beginning this year and sustaining that growth for the next ten years. You cannot build a first class space program on the cheap, and it's time we stopped trying.

Second, our human spaceflight program needs, well a destination. We have become too focused on the financial issues facing the International Space Station and have ignored the need for the project to have a central purpose. A central organizing purpose that can rally our people, inspire new educational energies, and make the best use of those facilities aboard the ISS that are already planned. I believe that we should establish as a national goal the focus of the International Space Station over its first decade-and-a-half to addressing the barriers to human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit with a goal of sustaining the first research expedition of a human crew to Mars by the end of the next decade.

Third, rebuilding our existing space infrastructure should be an urgent short-term priority. Crumbling launch facilities, obsolete technology, and a dwindling workforce will serve to keep us Earthbound more than any elusive technological goal. Repairing infrastructure and the modernizing of our spaceports should be near the top of our space agenda over the next half-decade.

Fourth, and finally, if we do not substantially lower the cost of access to space we won't be going anywhere. Beyond the current completion of the Space Launch Initiative in 2006 there is no specific development or funding plan for actually building a new reusable launcher. Building a fully-reusable second generation launch vehicle to follow the space shuttle should be a national goal stated and set in motion today. A vehicle whose cost will not be cheap, but who can only be built by the federal government. Such a system should have characteristics that make it as commercially viable as possible while servicing the civil, military, and commercial space markets. This RLV must reduce the cost of routine space flight over today's $6,000 to $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound, or less. And once such a vehicle has been flown and tested, it should be operated by private industry not the U.S. government.

We at STA believe that RLV development, as well as safe upgrades to the existing shuttle fleet, are the keys to sustaining U.S. leadership in human spaceflight. And if we do not undertake these goals today, we will not be leading in 2050. It's just that simple.

All of the goals I have outlined today cannot be achieved by another report of another government commission. They can only be reached if those who lead America make space activities a national priority again. The blunt truth is that unless we convince our leaders that space is essential to our nation's well being, we are engaging in fantasy to think we can ever hope to bring these visions into reality.

President Kennedy framed the idea of a peaceful global competition with the Soviet Union with the commitment to send humans to the Moon. President Reagan believed a permanent space station was the natural extension of the capability demonstrated by the space shuttles.

Now we have new leaders, and it is their time to not just frame a new vision of space, but to lay down the commitment in dollars and determination .

Let us once again sail the sea of space with a clear purpose and a national focus. That's not just a vision- it can also be our destiny.


The Space Transportation Association
P.O. Box 25027
Arlington, Va. 22202