Rocking the retro NASA “meatball” logo and a SpaceX emblem, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken’s state-of-the-art spacecraft sits on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Flight Center in southern Florida. Passengers and pilots of the Dragon capsule, designed and produced by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the two astronauts will be the first Americans to launch into orbit (and dock with the International Space Station) from American soil since the termination of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
This marks the first crewed spaceflight to be completed by SpaceX. But, as Musk and NASA will remind you, this is far from the last. This launch will serve as the “lighting of the candle” for a new age of American space dominance, spearheaded by robust public-private partnerships and a renewed public interest in space exploration.
Jim Bridenstine, the current administrator of NASA, says that these sorts of endeavors can bring people together. “It’s not going to just unite Republicans and Democrats, it’s going to unite the world.”
Beyond the morale-boosting impact of a reinvigorated space program and launches such as Saturday’s, the new era of American space ascendancy will massively contribute to the U.S. economy. With the promise of incorporating private enterprises such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and more into this grand undertaking, the positive economic impact will extend far beyond federal subsidy.
Investments in NASA and private ventures related to the space domain stimulate growth and innovation.
As private investment skyrockets and Congress allocates larger amounts to NASA and the newly founded United States Space Force, the impacts will go a lot further than the multiplier effect. Following President Kennedy’s declaration that “we shall go to the moon,” the United States led the world with unparalleled ingenuity in innovation and technological prowess. Today, despite still being on top of the world, nations such as China are beginning to catch up. Now, we have an opportunity to lift ourselves up once again and accelerate stagnating growth and productivity through forward-looking approaches to the world of tomorrow.
The CEO of Space Angels, a New York investment firm, remarked earlier this year that private space companies “are graduating and going from concept to scale.” Federal and state leaders have taken notice, and the bureaucracy is reacting beneficially to an insurgent market demand for big ideas and bold approaches.
Evidenced by Saturday’s historic launch, time will tell if our leaders use this as a springboard or let the opportunity pass. For Musk, current NASA leadership, scientists, economists, and foreign policy junkies the world-across, there is no question – Saturday is the day that we “light the candle.”
Though not an ideal location for space launches, the Grand Canyon State has a key role to play in shaping the economy of the future. Prior to Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took their first steps on a slightly less foreign surface for training: Cinder Lake Crater Field right here in Arizona.
Mining companies such as Freeport McMoran provide key minerals and metals needed to build everything from spaceships to launchpads. Aerospace companies like Honeywell, Boeing, and Raytheon have already started to adapt and expand into the final frontier with innovative designs. Every single industry has a place in this new economy, and the pie can only grow larger.
Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration has taken the lead on NASA’s Psyche mission which aims to launch in 2022 from the Kennedy Space Center and send an orbiter to a “unique metal asteroid” which appears to be “the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet.” It will also fly by Mars along the way.
The University of Arizona has found an interest in the final frontier with its Space Observation, Exploration, and Innovation department within the Office for Research, Discovery, and Innovation. In 2007, the Phoenix Mars Mission launched with the guidance of UArizona, and more recently they have been working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) which discovered water on Mars in 2015.
Northern Arizona University is home to a world-renowned Astronomy and Planetary Science department. They study everything from spacecraft missions, to planetary materials, to planetary formation, to astrobiology.
Arizona is at the forefront of innovation. As Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launch into orbit from American soil Saturday, the significance of this moment cannot be lost on us. Our state has an integral role to play in the era of American space ascendancy to come, and it’s on leaders in the public and private sector to lead the charge.
A state founded by cowboys, mavericks, trailblazers, and pioneers; Arizona is uniquely prepared for the next age of exploration. Clear leadership from government and industry will come first, and that will be accomplished through legislators working to pass innovative and friendly regulatory reforms that boost investment in the state and lure private businesses that bring consumers and government contracts along with them.
Furthermore, the Governor and other statewide elected officials must send the message that “Arizona is open for business,” and that it will be for decades to come. Thankfully, Governor Ducey has been a champion of business-friendly policies and pro-growth rhetoric.
The private industry, on the other hand, need not require guidance from politicians or pundits. Evidenced by the wild success of SpaceX and other innovative enterprises, it is abundantly clear that when government works with and not against American ingenuity, we witness extraordinarily positive outcomes.
Industry-specific policies spanning tax reform, licensing reform, subsidies, and more should also be on the table, but these remedies will come naturally as the economy booms and voters take notice.
President Kennedy reminded us all that we set goals, as Americans, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Commanding the next era of human space flight is no small task, but it is one that Americans up for.
The late and great Senator John McCain remarked that, “[Americans] never hide from history. We make history.” Beginning this Saturday, we will embark on the mission of a generation: to carve out our legacy among the stars.
You can learn more about Saturday’s historic launch here.
Joe Pitts is a government affairs intern for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and a student at Arizona State University.