Los Angeles, October 13, 2003 – The Space Frontier Foundation says the U.S. is in danger of losing its lead in space. The group points to the upcoming launch of the first Chinese astronauts (taikonauts) at a time when the U.S. cannot place its own astronauts in space as a signal that our space program has lost its way. The Foundation says America squandered its 40 year lead since flying the Mercury astronauts by not using the time to foster a commercial space transportation industry – instead maintaining a government monopoly on human space flight.
“The Chinese flight should be a wake-up call for all Americans that something is wrong in our space program,” said Foundation Co-Founder Rick Tumlinson. “By now access to space should be routine, with re-usable spaceships operating like airliners did 40 years after the Wright Brothers. Instead, our shuttles are grounded half the time and NASA’s big ‘new’ idea is to spend billions on a space capsule that sits on top of an expendable Cold War style rocket stack – much like the Chinese spacecraft. It is ridiculous and embarrassing, and we better get our act together, or we will soon be a second class nation in space.”
The Foundation believes the U.S. is about to fall behind in a space race its leaders didn’t even notice was going on. Unlike the Cold War race to the Moon, this new space race will be won by the nation that can put people into space cheaply and routinely. They assert that while we dumped billions into shiny dead-end projects and technologies, the Chinese built a cheap rocket to fly people into space. The group feels America has two choices when it comes to answering the Chinese challenge. Either we pour more billions of dollars into the current ailing space program or we unleash the power of American ingenuity and free enterprise to do in space what it has done for air transportation here on Earth. The Foundation supports the latter.
“This is a race to see who can fly people and goods into space safely and for the lowest cost,” said Tony DeTora, the Foundation’s Executive Director, “and we have gone down the wrong path to get there. Yet, I am still sure we can do it far better and more cheaply than anyone – if we let our private sector have the chance to win the race for us.”
The Foundation points to several U.S. firms already building low cost re-usable spaceships for sub-orbital commercial flights. They want the U.S. government to do all it can to help these firms succeed and make the leap to fully orbital space transportation systems. They want NASA and all government entities to buy their rides into space from U.S. vendors to kick start a new market, for the FAA to lower regulatory barriers, and for Congress to create financial and tax incentives to help this new industry find investors. The Foundation believes a strong and competitive U.S. space transportation industry can not only keep the U.S. in the lead for space access, but also help lower costs for an effort to return to the Moon – a goal often stated by the Chinese.