The shuttle program ended this week just as we celebrated the 42nd anniversary of Apollo. It is poetic and yet sad. It also begs the question, what next?
Some, even heroes of Apollo, whine and lament the end of exploration and what they see as the death of our American frontier spirit. To them the end of the government shuttle is a sign of decline, the end of vision and innovation and the beginning of a retreat from a bold new tomorrow.
They couldn't be more wrong.
Although those who gave us Apollo can't see what is happening right in front of them, a NewSpace revolution is sweeping old ways out the airlock, launching a new era in space that will pale all that have come before.
Apollo's children are alive and well.
Apollo's children are the generations raised during our quest for the moon and after who grew up, developed new ideas and business concepts, made millions, sometimes billions, and are now founding the first commercial space firms with their profits. They are also the crazy young millennial dreamers in t-shirts and jeans who look like the revolutionaries of Silicon Valley, and living on caffeine and rock music are designing the spaceships of tomorrow in universities and garages across America. And yes, they can be found in the cubicles of aerospace giants and even NASA centers, quietly slipping new ideas into the old systems.
They are the revolutionaries of NewSpace, and to them space isn't a government program, it is a frontier, and they are going to open it. I have seen them, talked to them, stayed up all night with them and listened to the passion and excitement in their voices. I have heard their crazy and not so crazy ideas and watched as with real pride and humility they've run the programs, flipped the switches and turned the knobs to show me their visions, hardware and new technologies. I have watched them cry as they blew up their dreams on desert floors and jump into the air laughing as they watched a not so crazy idea take flight and soar into the blue -- then black sky of space.
There are dozens of NewSpace companies and teams all across the U.S. with real funding, real technology and who are really flying and building the elements of a new drive into space that will change our civilization. From the deserts of California, Nevada and New Mexico to the mountains of Colorado and the rolling hills of Texas, the woods of Alabama and the shores of Virginia and Florida, NewSpace companies are designing, building, testing and flying very real new rocketships and space facilities that will throw open the airlock of space to all of us.
Ironically, the biggest obstacle to the NewSpace revolution isn't technology or even the dangers of space. It is a Congress and old space establishment who completely and totally doesn't seem to get it, and in the name of protecting a few old space jobs and their patronage system are still trying to force feed America the old pork-based programs we all know will bloat and blunder their way into cancellation a few years down the road.
Although hamstrung by Congressional dinosaurs protecting the old patronage system, even some at NASA are trying to change the agency so it can work with NewSpace rather than try and change NewSpace into old NASA. They know that in the future it will not "do space" for us, but explore space with us and allow us, the children of Apollo, to step up and begin doing our jobs of turning the new domains we enter into new places to live and prosper.
We honor the heroes of Apollo by building on their success with successes of our own, and blazing the way forward so the next generation can push the frontier even further.
Apollo's children are alive and well, and contrary to those decrying the end of America in space, they are about to produce a stunning set of achievements, proving once and for all that the right stuff is not just a quality to be found in government employees, but in all of us.
I make the following predictions based not on whimsical fancy but real information and the direction of real companies and projects -- many of which are already underway, funded and producing hardware, and some of which have already flown or have test articles in space right now -- and all are American led or based:
- Within one year the first non-governmental spaceship will carry a human into orbit.
- Within two years the first paying customers will be flying regularly to the edge of space.
- Within three years the first commercial space facility will open its airlock.
- Within four years the first commercial missions will land on the moon.
- Within five years multiple spaceships will be serving multiple space facilities including hotels and laboratories.
- Within six years the world's first commercial orbital space port will launch a rocket into space.
Apollo's children are alive and well. They are all around you and they need your encouragement, your support and your belief in their dreams -- because their dreams are the dreams we gave them. In fact they are many of you, your children, your grandchildren and the legacy we bequeath must not be defeat and denial but glory and the celebration of their genius and ingenuity.