formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

February 9, 2010 NASA and the manned space program

The Liberty Gazette
February 9, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

May 5, 1961 Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the first American to go into Space. Awaiting his launch into history books the astronaut laid in the capsule atop the Mercury Spacecraft “Freedom 7” when reporters asked for his thoughts. His reply: “The fact that every part in this ship was made by the lowest bidder.” This tongue-in-cheek response came 100 years after John Wise offered to build a balloon for the Union Army for $300. According to my friend, author, historian, and U.S. Air Force Veteran Charles Sutherland, “Major Hartman Bathe, chief of the Topographic Engineers, later told Wise to increase the size to 20,000 cubic-feet, and to use silk. Wise agreed but the cost skyrocketed to $850. This established the two great traditions of military aviation: late design modifications and production costs overruns.” Although low bidders are usually the winners of government contracts, somehow NASA has been plagued with cost overruns for years.

Mike: Five Shuttle missions remain before the last three Orbiters are retired. The Constellation Program was to be next; however, budget cuts have effectively ended NASA’s Manned Space Program. Enter the private sector. There are eight licensed Spaceports in the United States. The Texas Spaceport is near Van Horn. Not too far north and west of there is the more well-known Spaceport America located north of Las Cruces, New Mexico on the edge of the White Sands Missile Range. Near Burns Flats, Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Spaceport. Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida received its license to conduct commercial Spaceport operations on January 12 this year. These eight Spaceports across the country are offering commercial Space development services and Space tourism.

Why should we care? How does this impact us? Technology developed for the Space Program directly transfers to inventions that improve our lives here on Earth. In the medical technology field pacemakers, micro-lasers, mammography, MRI and kidney dialysis machines are inventions evolved from Space technology. The Teflon on your non-stick cookware, the Velcro on children’s shoes, and many fabrics, protective boots, and even athletic shoes are a result of the great advancements developed for Space flight. Petroleum exploration and refining equipment, solar and wind power equipment, and calculators all have their roots in the Space Program. Just about every modern product you can name can be traced back to the NASA Space Program.

Entrepreneurs and businesses make large investments to take technologies developed for Space exploration and adapt them for use here on Earth. Private businesses are often at the forefront of new technology because they are willing and better able to quickly respond to change than most government bureaucracies. NASA doubts whether it will be able to get Man back in Space before 2020; and doesn’t expect to send anyone to the Moon again before 2028. Discontinuing the Manned Space Program leaves a gap where many private sector companies see potential and are now investing in a budding industry. The private sector foresees getting Man back into Space before the end of 2011, and will likely do it more efficiently.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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