Commercial Spaceflight: Creating 21st Century Jobs

Obama's bold, new plan for NASA is a win-win decision, creating thousands of new high-tech jobs and helping America retain its leadership role in science and technology.
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Picture how different your life would be if commercial air travel didn't exist -- and imagine the millions of jobs that would vanish. Fortunately, commercial passenger aviation does exist and it exists because the U.S. government in the 1920s wisely decided to begin flying "air mail" on commercial airplanes, accelerating the growth of the entire passenger airline industry. President Obama's bold, new plan for NASA, announced earlier this month, makes an equally wise decision by promoting the growth of commercial spaceflight. This is a win-win decision; creating thousands of new high-tech jobs and helping America retain its leadership role in science and technology.

President Obama's decision to invest in this growing industry comes at a perfect time. Entrepreneurial companies like Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Space Systems, Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, and Blue Origin are investing their own money, right now, to create new jobs across the nation, including my home state of New Mexico, as they roll out innovative space vehicles. Even the larger, more traditional firms that build launch vehicles for government satellite missions are throwing their hat into the ring to launch new commercial space activities. Commercial spaceflight represents the type of dynamic innovation that we need to create 21st century jobs. Indeed, commercial space companies are one of the few industries that have continued to hire people during the recession.

Our modern economy depends on space -- it is woven into our social fabric, from bank transactions and weather forecasts that depend on satellite signals, to GPS and the latest overhead images by commercial spacecraft that will help us rebuild Haiti. America's commercial space industry can bring private investment to the table and enable government dollars to go much further in meeting our goals. Our nation's military already benefits from the use of commercial communications and remote sensing satellites, and trusts the commercial sector to launch critical military satellites on rockets designed and built commercially. Now NASA is poised to follow in the same direction by placing an emphasis on commercial space.

In New Mexico, our support for commercial spaceflight is already reaping benefits. About 500 New Mexicans are now on the job, creating the first commercial spaceport in the world. Another 300 new jobs are expected this year. The spaceport is fulfilling its promise of inspiring young people to study math and science and developing our statewide economy. Our anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, recently unveiled its completed, environmentally friendly spacecraft, and has over forty two million dollars deposited in reservations. The demand is there, and New Mexico will get its return on investment.

Americans will get their return on investment, too. The excitement of commercial spaceflight is already inspiring kids to pursue careers in science and technology, something our nation desperately needs to remain competitive with emerging powers like China.

Commercial space also offers an opportunity as Congress ponders how to create more jobs and cut the budget deficit. First, by partnering further with commercial industry; NASA can invest its limited tax dollars in new jobs and entire new industries. By lowering the price and increasing the frequency of human access to space, NASA astronauts, private explorers, and scientific ventures help strengthen the space economy. Second, it's vital that our space program be frugal while simultaneously producing more benefits for the American people. Commercial space will create immediate jobs, reduce costs, and allow NASA to do more with less. The government and private sector can work collaboratively to accelerate technology and innovation in space that will create a better tomorrow for all mankind.

We have no time to waste -- in a few months the aging Space Shuttle will fly its final mission and America will be without a space vehicle for the first time in over three decades. I am pleased that President Obama and NASA chief Charlie Bolden have decided to promote commercial spaceflight -- let's get to work building this growing industry! The Wright Brothers would be proud.

Bill Richardson is the governor of the state of New Mexico.

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