Space Flight, Innovation, and American Competitiveness

The space shuttle Discovery recently returned from its 39th and final mission, leaving America’s space program in a state of transition.  Only two more missions remain for the shuttle fleet, and it is unclear what will replace the shuttle as the means of sending humans into space.  The goal is that the end of this program can give way to another in which deep space exploration is the within reach.  The hope is that retiring the expensive shuttle fleet will free up federal money for developing new launch systems that can penetrate into deep space or smaller spacecraft capable of quickly ferrying people and provisions to and from the international space station.  Congress, however, has been hesitant to commit funding for the next phase of human space flight as it seeks ways to cut spending with the specter of increasingly large deficits looming ever-present.

The situation looms larger as it relates to overall American competitiveness and employmentThe US holds a comparative advantage in the highly skilled space industry, which may become a key global industry over the next century, according to former Rep. James Bacchus (D).  In effect, maintaining a robust space program is not just about saving ordinary American jobs, but those that utilize skills and knowledge that will be critical for American innovation in the 21st century.  Rep. Sandy Adams (R) recently stated that “human space exploration has contributed greatly to our nation’s economy, national security, and has fueled American ideas for innovation and technology.  NASA’s human space flight program has been an American flagship and a symbol of strength for our country and has inspired children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Posted by: Jason Schall

Sources: sunshinestatenews.com, tampabay.com, thehill.com, the space review,

Photo credit: Space shuttle liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center: Merritt Island,  Florida courtesy of flickr user State Library and Archives of Florida

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One Response to Space Flight, Innovation, and American Competitiveness

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