In a Washington DC speech yesterday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivered a strong endorsement of commercial spaceflight, specifically highlighting NASA’s new Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program, the importance of commercial human spaceflight, and the value of prize competitions to promote space innovation.
During his remarks to the National Association of Investment Companies, Administrator Bolden said, “NASA’s founding legislation states that we will ‘seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.’ … NASA must determine efficient and effective ways to leverage the power and innovation of American industry and the American entrepreneur.” Bolden then highlighted several specific NASA initiatives:
• Suborbital science: Bolden stated, “In the 1920s, the U.S. Post Office became a major customer for airmail, which created the demand that justified the private investment in many airlines. NASA is doing something similar right now. We are engaged in a new program — the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program — that will buy space transportation services from the emerging reusable spaceflight companies to conduct science research, technology development, with a keen focus on education.”
• Commercial human spaceflight: Bolden stated, “Some of the most exciting companies in America today go by the names of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, XCOR, Bigelow Aerospace, Masten, Flag Suit, and Ad Astra…. What these companies, and others, are doing is nothing short of inspirational. Today, we at NASA are devising ways to work with these companies and others who will come.”
• Innovation prizes: Bolden stated, “You may not know it, but NASA also has the authority to fund prizes. Over this weekend, NASA just held a competition in California with $750,000 in prizes for anyone in America who could move the most “regolith” — or moon dirt — with a robot. Twenty-three teams competed. The winning team is “Paul’s Robotics”, led by a young man by the name Paul Ventimiglia. … Paul is a college student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. … Now that is inspiring.”
Administrator Bolden also talked about the potential for commercial human spaceflight to motivate the nation’s youth to study math, science, and engineering, stating, “What if you were a seventh grader and you knew that if you buckled down, and studied hard at math and science, that you could go to space? Not because you would be the one of the very few who might become a NASA astronaut, as I was so privileged, but because you saw hundreds of people of all nations traveling into space each and every year, and knew in your bones that you could soon be one of them?”
The full text of Bolden’s speech can be found on the NASA website at http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/395165main_Bolden_NAIC_Speech.pdf.