American business: heading into orbit Essay


If you think there’s nothing new to be seen on the moon these
days, come with us on a brief tour of the future. You’ll be

You can “see,’ for instance, the American Lunar Base
(“Luna’) in Cayley Crater, which could be in operation in the
year 2000– a mere 15 years from now. In 1977 a NASA study proposed the
Cayley base as an example of how people could live and work in Luna. In
October 1984 more than 100 NASA and university scientists met in
Washington to plan how Luna will become the research and commercial
center of space industry.

Businesses? On the moon? We don’t even have astronauts there
now–but we do have planners hard at work here, their eyes on the
businesses that could open their doors on the moon by the year 2000.

Implausible? Not at all. After all, in 1900 fewer than 200 miles
of hardsurfaced roads existed in the United States. Now there are more
than 3 million. Many people can remember the 1920s, when we used a
special word, “aeronaut,’ for a person who had flown. Today
that term is obsolete. We have pilots, flight engineers, cabin
attendants and many other jobs: Hundreds of thousands of them routinely
fly millions of passengers and earn billions of dollars each year.
It’s hard to imagine life today without the world-wide economy made
possible by cheap air transport. Today the term “astronaut’
is used for the rare person who has flown in space. Within a few years
jobs in space will employ thousands.

The McDonnell Douglas Corporation has estimated that the 1984-94
space-market size will reach $10-20 billion for communications, $1
billion for remote sensing, $20-40 billion for materials and
manufacturing and $4-6 billion for orbital transport services. Rep.
D.K. Akaka of Hawaii, founder of the 164-member, bipartisan
Congressional Space Caucus, has estimated that commercial space activity
may be worth as much as $200-300 billion to our national economy by 2000
and may create as many as 10 million jobs over the next decade. Rep.
Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania agrees. He believes the United States
should commit itself to a goal of building a $500 billion space economy
to generate 20 million new jobs by the end of the century.

Companies are now sending experimental payloads on NASA’s
spaceshuttle flights and testing the effects of zero gravity on
materials and processes. These companies need to know now what will
happen in space to their machines and products so they can plan the
scale-model tests, the mockups and finally the machines and procedures
they will use to manufacture goods in orbit.

American companies are leading the way to private commercial use of
space. In September 1982, Space Services, Inc., of America, a Houston
corporation, launched the first private space vehicle to an altitude of
193 miles from Matagorda Island, Texas. Space Industries, also of
Houston, has signed a “memorandum of understanding’ with NASA
to privately develop a commercial space factory that will work with
NASA’s space station, under development at the Johnson Space

Can’t we manufacture goods perfectly well down here for less?
Not really. Abundant solar energy, microgravity and pure vacuum mean
new types of pure drugs, large, perfect crystals and new metal alloys
can be produced in space and on the moon.

The moon is a source of the most necessary item in space
travel–fuel. (Liquid oxygen used as fuel is a significant part of the
cargo now carried by the space shuttle.) The lunar rocks our astronauts
brought home have turned out to be about half oxygen. If we can get to
the moon and set up lunar mining outposts, we can produce vast
quantities of oxygen to fuel space travel, space stations, space
colonies, space farms and space factories.

First we must establish outposts, “filling stations in the
sky,’ as our stepping stones. Such stations would allow our four
planned shuttle vehicles to do the work of eight. In fact, a study by
General Dynamics for NASA predicts that up to 90 percent of the material
used in space structures can be obtained by mining the moon.

The first permanent step into space, the first “outpost’
on the way to the stars, is the space station being developed by NASA
and private contractors. The station, designed to provide places for
living and working on short, long and permanent projects, will be the
first location for space manufacturing and experimental laboratories.
Later it will be the supply base for lunar construction. The station
will be maintained in orbit and permanently habitable as shuttle flights
bring workers and supplies. The unique feature of the station is its
policy of operation. It is to be an international project, to allow
America’s allies access to the benefits of working in space.

Look at the federal budget–we can’t afford that! But the
federal government won’t be doing very much of it alone. More and
more Americans are investing in space and creating new companies to take
up the challenge and adventure of the High Frontier.

President Reagan has announced the policy of the federal government
–to encourage and assist private investment in space. Last October, the
President signed a bill that gives the U.S. Department of Transportation
power to license private companies for commercial space development.
The basic means of transportation used by these companies will be
private rockets nicknamed ELVs (expendable launch vehicles). ELVs are
the short-term key to space. Such private companies as Space Services
are ready to provide launch services with them right now, so other
private companies can launch ELVs loaded with their experimental
payloads and satellites.

Satellites–aren’t there enough to get all the weather reports
now? Several weather satellites are in orbit over specific areas of the
earth, but more are needed. Space businesses can use satellites in many
other ways. For example, Chrysler Corporation is experimenting with a
system that uses signals from satellites to display a video map with
your car’s exact location anywhere in the United States. Other
satellites would provide voice communications for your car’s
cellular telephone.

Besides using communications satellites to relay your long-distance
calls and radio messages, you may be getting your private TV signal from
space in the near future. New companies are lined up at the
government’s doors to obtain licenses for private TV satellites to
beam directly to your set. Two experimental satellites have already
demonstrated that this direct TV broadcast works.

Scientists are using other satellites to take a much closer look at
and under the surface of Earth. Remotesensing satellites are looking in
various ways at land surfaces and searching for signs of minerals,
checking the health of growing crops and forest lands and watching for
changes in the chemistry of rivers and lakes. Oceanremote-sensing
satellites are sending back data on water temperature, marine life and
currents, as well as information on ocean-floor minerals and shifts in
Earth’s crust. With this information businesses can plan and
evaluate crop production and water management.

The data and photos sent back by remote-sensing satellites are also
passed along by the United States to developing countries. These
countries cannot afford to enter space on their own, so America is
sharing the benefits of space with its neighbors to help them make the
maximum use of Earth’s resources.

Solar-energy satellites now in the planning stages will be arrayed
in space to beam solar energy back from the continuous sunlight of
space. This solar energy, if developed in large quantities, could be
very inexpensive. The strain on Earth’s limited energy sources
would be relieved, and poor nations could then obtain energy for their
growth without damaging the environment.

Free-enterprise companies other than high-technology businesses are
also entering space now. Lamar Savings and Loan Association of Austin,
Texas, has applied for permission to open a branch office on the moon.
Because of the long planning time and the estimated 18-month period
needed to get government-agency approvals for the branch office, Lamar
was barely on time to qualify for the grand opening of Cayley Crater
Lunar Base. Lamar Lunar will process commercial and personal
transactions for the lunar-oxygen miners, space-shipping companies,
spacestation construction workers and general space traffic.

Private commercial activities in space industries–communications.
Many new jobs are being created to space industries, communications.
Many new jobs are being created to assist the growth of space industry,
and more are being created by American industries using the discoveries
made in the space programs. Common household ceramic cookware,
high-impact plastics, special metal alloys for machinery–all these
products have already come from our earlier steps into space.

The Soviet Union has estimated the economic impact of
“extraterrestrial industry’ and space manufacturing to be $50
billion as early as 1990. To encourage this expansion of the Soviet
economic frontier, the Soviets are developing a launch vehicle capable
of carrying from 200 to 400 tons into space–10 to 20 times the payload
of the space shuttle. The Soviets are planning a “Kosmograd’
space base for the late 1980s. The base will have several hundred
inhabitants and will lead to a Soviet lunar base; the government is
already training 300 of its brightest children in Moscow at a special
school for space colonists.

Public and private, big and small, East and West–people are
preparing to do business in space. Just as our forefathers followed the
sun and the winds in search of a better life, so we and our children are
following the sun’s rays back toward their source and beyond.

The first steps have already been taken from the Earth’s
surface. The scouts have been sent out and have come back with their
reports. Next come the outposts, the space stations and the first lunar
bases to develop fuel resources, the stockpile for travelers. And not
really very far from us today–the routine trip.

Photo: A crane unloads a housing unit from its delivery rocket for
burial under the moon’s surface at Cayley. This one will be a
nursery for lunar miners’ children.

Photo: Construction workers in 1990 build a space factory. Products
made in space, including medicine and microchips, will create new jobs
and growth industries.

Photo: The spirit of the ’49ers lives on in space.
Independent American companies in the year 2000, with the blessing of
federal agencies, will be using high technology to mine the asteroids
for rare metals.

Photo: Liquid oxygen processed from rocks mined on the moon’s
surface and stored at this orbital filling station is used to fuel
commercial spacecraft.


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