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Creating a Spacefaring Civilization

By Pat Dasch
NSS Executive Director

Space and Our Changing Times
Our world changed on 11 September. I want to express my thanks to the many members who contacted us to check that everyone at NSS Headquarters was okay. The Headquarters office on Pennsylvania Avenue is less than two miles as the crow flies from the Pentagon. The building reverberated with the impact of the attack on the Pentagon and the enormous, rapidly expanding pall of smoke told the seriousness of the event. Because it was feared that the Capitol (just down the street from us) was another likely target, our building was evacuated and we all headed home to spend the rest of the day and much of the night, like everyone else, glued to the television for developing news.

We have been back at work since 12 September. Regrouping — deciding how best to advance the NSS mission in light of developments. In late September I did a one-hour radio program talking about new ways of looking at space exploration in our changed world order. And that was just one of several interviews we have undertaken with the media in the aftermath of the attacks.

Studies have already been put in place following the atrocities of 11 September to identify space-based improvements to the air traffic control system. Miniaturization, a key element in many recent space missions, has a role. So do robotic technologies, as we have seen in TV pictures of small robots sifting through some of the most dangerously unstable wreckage in New York and the nearby Pentagon.

But space will not be on the radar screens of many politicians or many members of the public during the coming months. They will be concerned primarily with the war effort, homeland defense and the state of the economy. This is why it is important for NSS members to talk to friends and family and people in your community about the role that space plays in these times of strife. And it is why those of us in Washington, DC, have been meeting with representatives of other prospace groups such as AIA, STA and ProSpace to discuss those enhancements to space technologies that could improve current resources. Working together we will keep a prospace message flowing to Congress.

It is essential that we educate the public about the role of space in our current circumstances and it is also imperative that we remain steadfast in our vision and mission. The political focus of the moment may not be on a human return to the Moon or developing technologies for an eventual mission to Mars, but today’s emphasis on smart technologies and dependence on space-based intelligence and communications will advance development of a spacefaring civilization in the long run. Our space program has assets that can increase public safety and help win the war on terrorism. That will be the best way to preserve our long-term future for the next generation.

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