American business: heading into orbit Essay

AMERICAN BUSINESS: HEADING INTO ORBIT If you think there’s nothing new to be seen on the moon thesedays, come with us on a brief tour of the future. You’ll besurprised.

You can “see,’ for instance, the American Lunar Base(“Luna’) in Cayley Crater, which could be in operation in theyear 2000– a mere 15 years from now. In 1977 a NASA study proposed theCayley base as an example of how people could live and work in Luna. InOctober 1984 more than 100 NASA and university scientists met inWashington to plan how Luna will become the research and commercialcenter of space industry. Businesses? On the moon? We don’t even have astronauts therenow–but we do have planners hard at work here, their eyes on thebusinesses that could open their doors on the moon by the year 2000.

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Implausible? Not at all. After all, in 1900 fewer than 200 milesof hardsurfaced roads existed in the United States. Now there are morethan 3 million. Many people can remember the 1920s, when we used aspecial word, “aeronaut,’ for a person who had flown. Todaythat term is obsolete. We have pilots, flight engineers, cabinattendants and many other jobs: Hundreds of thousands of them routinelyfly millions of passengers and earn billions of dollars each year.It’s hard to imagine life today without the world-wide economy madepossible by cheap air transport. Today the term “astronaut’is used for the rare person who has flown in space.

Within a few yearsjobs in space will employ thousands. The McDonnell Douglas Corporation has estimated that the 1984-94space-market size will reach $10-20 billion for communications, $1billion for remote sensing, $20-40 billion for materials andmanufacturing and $4-6 billion for orbital transport services. Rep.D.K. Akaka of Hawaii, founder of the 164-member, bipartisanCongressional Space Caucus, has estimated that commercial space activitymay be worth as much as $200-300 billion to our national economy by 2000and may create as many as 10 million jobs over the next decade. Rep.Robert S.

Walker of Pennsylvania agrees. He believes the United Statesshould commit itself to a goal of building a $500 billion space economyto generate 20 million new jobs by the end of the century. Companies are now sending experimental payloads on NASA’sspaceshuttle flights and testing the effects of zero gravity onmaterials and processes. These companies need to know now what willhappen in space to their machines and products so they can plan thescale-model tests, the mockups and finally the machines and proceduresthey will use to manufacture goods in orbit. American companies are leading the way to private commercial use ofspace. In September 1982, Space Services, Inc., of America, a Houstoncorporation, launched the first private space vehicle to an altitude of193 miles from Matagorda Island, Texas. Space Industries, also ofHouston, has signed a “memorandum of understanding’ with NASAto privately develop a commercial space factory that will work withNASA’s space station, under development at the Johnson SpaceCenter.

Can’t we manufacture goods perfectly well down here for less?Not really. Abundant solar energy, microgravity and pure vacuum meannew types of pure drugs, large, perfect crystals and new metal alloyscan be produced in space and on the moon. The moon is a source of the most necessary item in spacetravel–fuel. (Liquid oxygen used as fuel is a significant part of thecargo now carried by the space shuttle.) The lunar rocks our astronautsbrought home have turned out to be about half oxygen.

If we can get tothe moon and set up lunar mining outposts, we can produce vastquantities of oxygen to fuel space travel, space stations, spacecolonies, space farms and space factories. First we must establish outposts, “filling stations in thesky,’ as our stepping stones. Such stations would allow our fourplanned shuttle vehicles to do the work of eight. In fact, a study byGeneral Dynamics for NASA predicts that up to 90 percent of the materialused 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 NASAand private contractors. The station, designed to provide places forliving and working on short, long and permanent projects, will be thefirst location for space manufacturing and experimental laboratories.Later it will be the supply base for lunar construction. The stationwill be maintained in orbit and permanently habitable as shuttle flightsbring workers and supplies. The unique feature of the station is itspolicy of operation.

It is to be an international project, to allowAmerica’s allies access to the benefits of working in space. Look at the federal budget–we can’t afford that! But thefederal government won’t be doing very much of it alone. More andmore Americans are investing in space and creating new companies to takeup 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, thePresident signed a bill that gives the U.S.

Department of Transportationpower to license private companies for commercial space development.The basic means of transportation used by these companies will beprivate rockets nicknamed ELVs (expendable launch vehicles). ELVs arethe short-term key to space. Such private companies as Space Servicesare ready to provide launch services with them right now, so otherprivate companies can launch ELVs loaded with their experimentalpayloads and satellites.

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

Besides using communications satellites to relay your long-distancecalls and radio messages, you may be getting your private TV signal fromspace in the near future. New companies are lined up at thegovernment’s doors to obtain licenses for private TV satellites tobeam directly to your set. Two experimental satellites have alreadydemonstrated that this direct TV broadcast works. Scientists are using other satellites to take a much closer look atand under the surface of Earth. Remotesensing satellites are looking invarious ways at land surfaces and searching for signs of minerals,checking the health of growing crops and forest lands and watching forchanges in the chemistry of rivers and lakes. Oceanremote-sensingsatellites are sending back data on water temperature, marine life andcurrents, as well as information on ocean-floor minerals and shifts inEarth’s crust. With this information businesses can plan andevaluate crop production and water management.

The data and photos sent back by remote-sensing satellites are alsopassed along by the United States to developing countries. Thesecountries cannot afford to enter space on their own, so America issharing the benefits of space with its neighbors to help them make themaximum use of Earth’s resources. Solar-energy satellites now in the planning stages will be arrayedin space to beam solar energy back from the continuous sunlight ofspace.

This solar energy, if developed in large quantities, could bevery inexpensive. The strain on Earth’s limited energy sourceswould be relieved, and poor nations could then obtain energy for theirgrowth without damaging the environment. Free-enterprise companies other than high-technology businesses arealso 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 periodneeded to get government-agency approvals for the branch office, Lamarwas barely on time to qualify for the grand opening of Cayley CraterLunar Base. Lamar Lunar will process commercial and personaltransactions 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 discoveriesmade in the space programs.

Common household ceramic cookware,high-impact plastics, special metal alloys for machinery–all theseproducts 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 $50billion as early as 1990. To encourage this expansion of the Sovieteconomic frontier, the Soviets are developing a launch vehicle capableof carrying from 200 to 400 tons into space–10 to 20 times the payloadof the space shuttle. The Soviets are planning a “Kosmograd’space base for the late 1980s. The base will have several hundredinhabitants and will lead to a Soviet lunar base; the government isalready training 300 of its brightest children in Moscow at a specialschool for space colonists.

Public and private, big and small, East and West–people arepreparing to do business in space. Just as our forefathers followed thesun and the winds in search of a better life, so we and our children arefollowing the sun’s rays back toward their source and beyond. The first steps have already been taken from the Earth’ssurface. The scouts have been sent out and have come back with theirreports. Next come the outposts, the space stations and the first lunarbases to develop fuel resources, the stockpile for travelers. And notreally very far from us today–the routine trip. Photo: A crane unloads a housing unit from its delivery rocket forburial under the moon’s surface at Cayley.

This one will be anursery for lunar miners’ children. Photo: Construction workers in 1990 build a space factory. Productsmade in space, including medicine and microchips, will create new jobsand growth industries. Photo: The spirit of the ’49ers lives on in space.

Independent American companies in the year 2000, with the blessing offederal agencies, will be using high technology to mine the asteroidsfor rare metals. Photo: Liquid oxygen processed from rocks mined on the moon’ssurface and stored at this orbital filling station is used to fuelcommercial spacecraft.


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