April 19, 2012
Charles Bolden Speech Gives Hope For Future Of NASA
Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
When I tell someone that I was at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, they assume that it's a fancy way of saying I attended a Star Trek Convention. Little do they know, it is at this event where Star Trek fantasies are overshadowed by actual reality.
The beauty of the adventure I was about to embark on was not based on the thrill of sticking out like a zebra in a casino, but was that we all shared a common interest: space.
The 28th National Space Symposium is a collaboration of rock-stars in an industry that glorifies man extending his reach of exploration beyond what Lewis and Clark were able to even imagine.
Decorated veterans and active members of the Air Force littered the floors of The Broadmoor hotel, making my slouching posture all the more apparent.
The main event for me wasn't that I was able to gloat about the fact that I was in the presence of former and future astronauts, satellite engineers, and astrophysicists, but that Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, was about to give a speech.
Gen. William L. Shelton, Commander of the Air Force Space Command, tested the waters of the International Center on Main Stage before Bolden. Shelton focused mostly on what effect the 2012 budget cuts had on the Air Force Space Command.
The decorated general, speaking amongst a crowd of veterans and active members of the U.S. military, forced more patriotic songs into my head than I can recount, but what stuck out more to me than just the experience was Shelton talking about the future of GPS III.
Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) was first set into space in 1978, and now has 31 healthy satellites orbiting Earth, providing not only guidance to members of the military throughout the planet, but also those driving on the backroads of the countryside who made a wrong turn.
GPS III will be a future satellite constellation that will enhance what the current system does, giving more reliability and security to both the military and civilians. In laymen's terms, this satellite constellation will be able to pinpoint you to within about 9 feet of where you are standing on Earth.
With GPS III, you will be able to zoom so far in with Google Maps that you can determine exactly what side of the street you are standing on, not just which block you are in.
As Shelton's speech ended, I knew the moment I had waited weeks for was finally arriving. The man who oversees the space program I have idolized for so long was finally taking the stage.
As soon as Bolden took the stage, he had a way of commanding the attention of the room that only people like Paul McCartney or Steven Tyler can do.
He spoke with such an authentic passion that he immediately caught my attention, and could turn anyone from a skeptic to a believer in the U.S. space program.
Within just the first few minutes, Bolden's passion for the industry he is in already caught up to him, taken back by an audience of peers that he knew held both the future and past stars of space exploration.
He did not unveil anything that had not already been covered by the media yet, but hearing the man at the head of NASA talk about projects like the Mars Science Laboratory made them all the more realistic.
Bolden reassured the gathering that NASA has a place in the future of America's plans to reach beyond our atmosphere.
His speech came at the heels of space shuttle Discovery making its final landing in Washington, set to be retired at its new home at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
"This morning, we accomplished an incredible milestone in a series of milestones as we phase out the most incredible program, probably, in the history of human spaceflight," Bolden said at the event. “Just because the shuttle is retired, doesn´t mean NASA is shuttering. Far from it. I believe the best is yet to come."
He admitted that this is a "very different" season in the space agency's lifetime, a "new era of exploration."
NASA is planning to conduct more than 80 missions, including 26 new ones, in the coming year through its $17 billion budget, according to Bolden.
The space agency is already getting ready to launch SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on April 30. This is a milestone that sets the pace for what the future holds in this industry in America.
As Bolden said, the Dragon capsule will make the U.S. no longer dependent on other countries to supply its ISS astronauts with equipment and supplies.
Just before leaving off the stage and sending everyone in the room home with a heart full of NASA hope, Bolden ended his speech by saying: "The future is literally happening right now, and NASA intends to lead the march to it."