Griffin Sees Space Innovation Generating $180 Billion Yearly Economy

By | September 17, 2007 | Satellite News Feed

Celebrating Half A Century Of American Space Flight

The American space program, celebrating its half-century mark, has given birth to a vibrant, expanding economy worth $180 billion in 2005, an economy that touches the personal and professional lives of millions of people in every state, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said today.

Griffin thoroughly debunked the claims by some that space programs are a frill, or even a waste of money that could be spent to meet needs on Earth.

Space superiority also gives a nation a cachet that helps the overall national economy to attract more business, with many decision makers worldwide assuming that if a country can lead the world in, literally, rocket science, it must be able to do many other things brilliantly, he said.

But he also said one can’t assume that such a global image is guaranteed to last forever. For example, he noted, if China beats the United States back to the moon, "people won’t like it."

The next-generation American spaceship, Orion-Ares, won’t be ready for manned flight until around 2015 unless money is spent to achieve that goal sooner, and a U.S. flight to the moon won’t occur until the end of the next decade. (Please see related story in this issue.)

But China may be ready to launch a mission to the moon before then, though some hope it won’t occur until after 2020.

Leadership in space attracts more business to nations, Griffin said.

"Developing countries like China recognize the value of space activities as a driver of innovation, a source of national pride, and a membership in the most exclusive of clubs — that of spacefaring societies," he said.

Therefore, "it is no coincidence that we’re seeing thousands of high-tech start-ups in China."

Griffin spoke at the NASA lecture series, sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], at a hotel in downtown Washington.

Aside from citing Space Foundation estimates that the space economy totaled $180 billion in 2005, with almost 60 percent of that in commercial goods and services, Griffin illustrated just how NASA and its space program touch the lives not only of Americans, but people around the planet.

The space program has given people:

  • Satellite communications, including radio and television
  • Telemedicine, so that a physician in one place can obtain expertise from colleagues anywhere
  • GPS navigation in cars, trucks, planes, railroad trains, on farms and more
  • Weather and climate monitoring, warning the human race of everything from hurricanes approaching to droughts developing to ozone depletion
  • Myriad space-based military assets, from warning of enemy missile launches to global communications between warfighters who also can receive real-time knowledge of enemy positions and movements
  • Cell phones technology
  • Calculators, including those that are solar powered
  • Automated bank teller machines
  • Gas pumps that take credit cards
  • Ultrasound medical imaging derived from algorithms used to process images of Mars at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In one instance, that permitted correct diagnosis of coronary disease in a man when other technologies missed the problem. The man, Gary Thompson, went on to start a firm, Medical Technologies International Inc., to make the technology more widely available.
  • When a boy was born with no sweat glands, so he was subject to bouts of overheating, NASA devised a cooling vest for him, and later for 650 others suffering the problem. That meant that, for the first time, the boy could go outside, safely.
  • Immense computer storage capacity, even in simple home computers, that without the space program would be impossible or prohibitively expensive
  • "Technologies developed for exploring space are being used to increase crop yields and to search for good fishing regions at sea," he said.

Technological innovation drives economic expansions, but technological advances themselves are driven by other factors, such as the inspiration provided by space exploration, he said.

So what might be the next big thing in the space program?

Of course, there is the vision enunciated by President Bush of venturing out to the moon, Mars and beyond.

But as well, there also will be a revolution in space travel, Griffin predicted.

"Fifty years into the space age, the greatest obstacle to the exploration and utilization of our solar system is the very high cost of space transportation," he said. "No government effort has yet made a successful attack on this problem."

When that day comes, however, "commercially viable, low-cost space transportation will be as transformative to the economy as the transition from steam to diesel power, or the achievement of powered flight," Griffin said.

He predicted that the advent of affordable space travel "will open up possibilities that now appear impractical, if not outlandish."

This also will be a time rich in opportunities for small companies that wish to join in the future of space, and the space economy, he said.

And for the space agency, "reaching for the unknown, making our lives bigger and our horizons broader, achieving things never before possible, are the heart and soul of what we do at NASA," he said, "transforming our lives for the better here on Earth even as we explore new worlds in space."

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