“Question: What is the most promising field for economic development in the United States, offering unlimited future growth potential, untold jobs, and the possibility to revolutionize every aspect of our lives?
Answer: It’s a trick question… because the field is not strictly “in” the United States. It’s the commercial space industry!”
My name is Charlie Bolden. As a U.S. Marine, I fought in the Vietnam War; as an astronaut, I commanded the space shuttle; and as NASA’s Administrator, I set the foundation for new and innovative initiatives for the next generation of space explorers. During the past year—as we have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing—it has been my honor to serve as the U.S. Department of State’s Science Envoy for Space. In this role, I have traveled the globe to promote space exploration and the commercialization of space.
I was particularly enthusiastic about this opportunity because as the NASA Administrator I managed a range of technical and funding issues with our valued friends and allies. As Science Envoy, I had the opportunity to inspire young people to reach for the stars, demonstrate to the general public the necessity of space activities to improve the daily quality of life for the world community, and remind everyone of the art of interplanetary discovery.
Everywhere I went on my journey, I emphasized America is open for business: we continue to lead the development of the space industry. Furthermore, we believe international cooperation in the space exploration has been a contributor to global peace and prosperity, and increased international cooperation in the commercial space industry will benefit all humanity.
My travels to promote increased cooperation with the United States in space exploration began in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at schools, film screenings, and public lectures. In Abu Dhabi, it was particularly special to have my public Q&A session moderated by the impressive Alia Al-Mansoori, an aspiring teenage Emirati astronaut. I hope we see her walking on Mars in the future!
Speaking of Mars, while I was in Jordan, I camped in the Wadi Rum Desert—the filming location of The Martian—with four university students who won a contest on what it will take to get humans to Mars. Discussing their winning answers beneath the stars was an unforgettable experience, and it reminded me of what made me fall in love with space and science.
I went to Africa, where I met with stakeholders in Ethiopia working on Earth observation and space policy and preparing to establish Ethiopia as a space-faring nation. Then in South Africa, I focused on the country’s emerging commercial space industry, a critical component in the world’s future of space exploration.
In India, participants at the Observer Research Foundation think tank and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry event asked if the United States would cooperate with India on its human spaceflight program. I told them that depends on India: the U.S. space industry is ready when they are! (My visit there also coincided with Women’s History Month, and NASA created a special video related to women in space for our outreach efforts.
In Vietnam, I highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and U.S.-Vietnam relations, recalling my experience as a Vietnam War veteran, and reflecting on how close our countries have grown in the last 25 years of our relationship. The Minister of Science and Technology expressed that Vietnam would like to sign a bilateral Space Framework Agreement with the United States during President Nguyen Phu Trong’s proposed October visit to Washington.
In Kuala Lumpur, I spoke at a public event featuring the Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change, and met with Malaysian Space Agency representatives at the planetarium.
My visits around the globe reinforced my view that space is truly an inspiring endeavor and can unite humanity in ways never imagined before the Moon landing. I witnessed firsthand the enthusiasm of students, business leaders, and government officials for science and space exploration. I also noticed a shift in attitude: more and more nations now believe in their ability to join the family of spacefaring nations and understand the benefits of an integrated, international space economy. A prime example of this change is the UAE where women make up nearly 90 percent of the science team for the Emirates Mars Mission, Hope, slated for launch to Mars in late 2020. That mission will enter Martian orbit in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE in 2021.
Yesterday, my final event as Envoy was serving on a panel commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. I was thrilled to join with Apollo 11 Astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin and with Dr. Ellen Stofan, Director of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM), to celebrate the past and look to the future of space exploration and space commerce.
About the Author: As U.S. Science Envoy for Space, Major General (ret.) Charles Bolden, Jr., has traveled extensively on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to promote bilateral science and technology partnerships in space exploration with a special emphasis on commercial space opportunities. General Bolden served as the 12th NASA Administrator where he oversaw the safe transition from 30 years of Space Shuttle missions to a new era of exploration focused on full utilization of the International Space Station. His 34-year career with the Marine Corps included 14 years as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Office, during which he traveled to space four times aboard the Space Shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions and piloting two others.