September 14, 2022
Dr. Ellen Stofan, Ph.D.
Undersecretary for Science and Research, Smithsonian
With the impending retirement of the International Space Station (ISS), many wonder what’s next for the future of space exploration and human space flight. The ISS has contributed tremendously to the scientific community for over two decades— but now it’s time for a new era of public and private space stations.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Aerospace Summit, Dr. Ellen Stofan, Undersecretary for Science and Research at Smithsonian, sat down for a panel discussion with featured guests Mary Lynne Dittmar, Ph.D., of Axiom Space, Jeffrey Manber of Voyager Space, and Misty Snopkowski of NASA on the future of public and private space stations.
NASA Will Continue to Work with International and Private Partners After the ISS Retires
While ISS isn’t planned to retire until the end of the decade, NASA is preparing its latest vision which includes enabling private astronaut missions to the ISS.
“That's the next step — to ensure that these [commercial low Earth orbit destinations, or] CLDs, are available when ISS [retires],” Snopkowski said. “Our vision is to have these CLDs in LEO (low Earth orbit) ready by 2030. They will be owned and operated by private industry, and NASA would be one of many customers.”
Over the next few years, NASA will continue to develop new space vehicles and “get the CLD design and early maturation up and running,” according to Snopkowski. “We want to make sure that we maintain our relationships with our IPs — international partners — going forward,” she said.
The U.S. Government Is Expanding the Marketplace for Potential Investors
The aerospace industry has become attractive to investors due to the significant amount of private capital that’s spent in the market — particularly from the government.
“The government behaving as a customer has opened up the marketplace for investors who are not space nuts,” Manber said. “As long as the government remains a customer… then you can get legitimate investors.”
Other governments are beginning to see the potential as well, and are looking for ways to break into the industry.
“What's happening is that other governments are watching the U.S. government act as a customer and think, ‘We can do that too,’” Dittmar said. “By doing that, we can start to bootstrap into our own culture the benefits of flying into low Earth orbit, both in terms of advancing our own research and technology and science portfolios, but also enhancing our own capabilities and learning as we go.”
Expanding Opportunities in the Aerospace Workforce by Focusing on Inclusion
Of the many improvements coming to the aerospace industry, one is the initiative to create a more inclusive environment.
“There's a lot of different pathways now to participate in space that are not necessarily engineering — they're not even necessarily science,” Dittmar said. “The change in the last decade is stunning [when] you think about where we were 10 years ago and where it is that we are now.”
NASA is getting behind this mission too, according to Snopkowski.
“[NASA recently] added a new core value of inclusion,” Snopkowski said. “I think that was a signal to the entire agency and leadership that when you're talking about diversity, you need to talk about it from a perspective of inclusion — and when that message comes from the top, that's where it starts.”
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