The United States risks losing its military dominance in space and its preeminence as an explorer if more funding is not provided for programs in the void beyond Earth, Robert Stevens, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. said.
"Put simply: There is no substitute or alternative to military dominance in space ... and this conviction should guide our course for the next 50 years," Stevens said during a keynote address at the 23rd National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I would argue that our civil space mission, too, is key to America's strength." The keynote was covered by sister publication Space & Missile Defense Report.
Focusing on the efforts of NASA, Stevens asserted that civil space exploration "represents the better angels of our nature -- our yearning for knowledge and truth. Some have suggested that Americans no longer get excited about space exploration. Yet, I wonder how our citizens will feel if we let our top spacefaring status drift... and find ourselves watching other nations' dazzling achievements instead of our own."
He noted that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has warned that the United States is about to lose its foremost position in space, cautioning that the gap between retiring the space shuttle fleet in 2010 and the advent of the Orion-Ares next-generation space vehicle will mean years when Americans literally will not get off the ground.
At a minimum, "this could lead to a situation where other countries with space aspirations start looking for new partners," Stevens predicted. But "I, for one, am not ready to pass the torch, and I respectfully suggest that we all rethink the wisdom of allowing a four-year gap in human access to space. I think America should be rekindling the flame and lighting the way."
NASA last year chose Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor, to build the next-generation Orion crew exploration vehicle.
"I'm mindful that this argument may seem disingenuous or self-serving," he said. "The funding issue goes way beyond any company or industry aspirations. It's at the core of our nation's ability to do what needs to be done."
As Stevens spoke, Congress was considering budget measures that would leave a $500 million or so decline in funds for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and a similar amount in the NASA budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.
The United States "cannot preserve space leadership without sustained investment," he noted. "Funding stability is key and we should all work to deliver the kind of performance that reinforces this stability. For customers this means focusing early on system definition and requirements discipline -- because stable requirements lead to a more executable program. For industry this means assembling core competencies, processes, and leadership in the supply chain to better discharge the program plan and meet commitments."
Not only is more money required, but enough money to produce vehicles that can operate, safely, in the harsh hot-and-cold vacuum of space, Stevens said. "When we address these elements and follow the formula - the 'recipe' for space - when we have sufficient test equipment to stress the entire system during development, when we provision adequate spares and qualification units, when we assure adequate schedule margin, and when we budget for management reserve -- space becomes much less broken," he said, responding to claims of critics.
"In space, there are no shortcuts, no quick fixes," he warned. "When we follow the recipe, we succeed."
Stevens also echoed calls by Griffin and others, including lawmakers, that it is crucial to attract more young people to careers in sciences and engineering.
The question now is where NASA, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and contractors such as Lockheed Martin are going to obtain replacements for thousands of about-to-retire employees.
"Even as the U.S. aerospace sector struggles to replenish our workforce, there is no doubt that China is racing ahead to build the technical wave of the future, with 50 percent of Chinese undergraduates getting degrees in natural science or engineering," Stevens observed.
If "the aerospace sector wants to remain attractive to our nation's best and brightest, we need to rekindle the energy and excitement that surrounded the new frontier," he said.