The View From Here

The View From Here:

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Like most Americans may be, I'm only too happy to see 2008 come to an end.  Wrung out by a long presidential campaign and a global economic melt-down, 2008 is a year that I'll remember as a long season of unwelcomed news - punctuated by a historic moment of hope as Americans elected Senator Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. Nonetheless, a series of dramatic events in space were playing out in the background, assuring that 2008 would be remembered as a great year in space.

Top 10 Reasons that 2008 was a great year in space:

Number 10: Space economy rockets past $250 billion

As we reported in The Space Report 2008: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, the global space economy zoomed past the $250 billion mark in 2007. No longer dominated by government spending, the space economy is now driven by consumer applications of technologies using the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) satellite constellation, direct-to-consumer satellite television and radio broadcasting, and commercialized space imaging satellites that fuel such consumer applications as Google Earth. Available online at, the Space Foundation's annual report on the industry also revealed that, despite the global economic slowdown, the space economy grew 11 percent in 2007 - largely owing to a mature and growing commercial space economy. While government space spending remains relatively flat, commercial space revenues now account for 71 percent of global space activity, with sectors like GPS equipment manufacturing up 20 percent and direct-to-home broadcasting up 19 percent.

Number 9: Virgin Galactic unveils SpaceShipTwo and begins test program

Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team chose New York's Hayden Planetarium in January to unveil the design for SpaceShipTwo, the successor to Virgin's X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipTwo is an operational version of the two-stage-to-space system that will carry thousands of ordinary citizens from all walks of life into space in the years ahead. With the Virgin Galactic team already putting future suborbital passengers through centrifuge training and the first SpaceShipTwo carrier aircraft rolling out for tests in August, the age of space travel for everyone moved significantly closer to reality.

Number 8: Japan's success with extra-terrestrial exploration

2008 marked the first time the John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration was presented to a non-U.S. organization. JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was recognized for successful operation of an impressive fleet of robotic exploration spacecraft. The spacecraft - Suzaku, Akari, Hinode, Hayabusa and Kaguya - have done everything from landing on and drilling into an asteroid to providing the historic first HDTV images of Earth's moon as seen from lunar orbit. The impressive Japanese solar system exploration program is on the leading edge of a growing trend of space firsts by nations other than the traditional space superpowers, signaling a new era in international space exploration.

Number 7: SpaceX achieves successful orbital launch

Undaunted by earlier launch failures, the commercial space transportation company founded by dot-com entrepreneur Elon Musk succeeded in successfully placing a demonstration spacecraft into a precise Earth orbit in September. Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, was founded and funded entirely with private capital with the expressed intent of dramatically reducing the cost of putting payloads into orbit. The SpaceX Falcon rocket was the first liquid-propelled launch vehicle to be entirely capitalized and developed with private funding from main engine to nose cone. The accomplishment was all the more impressive because SpaceX pressed ahead despite three previous failed launch attempts - proving that rocket science is still a risky business, but one that can be mastered by commercial companies with resources and resolve.

Number 6: Shenzhou 7 mission a huge success for China

China's resolve to become a superpower in space was convincingly demonstrated in September when the China National Space Administration's Shenzhou 7 mission accomplished a number of impressive firsts. The list of firsts includes China's first three-person crew in orbit, China's first space walk, successful depressurization and re-pressurization of a spacecraft in orbit, successful test and demonstration of a Chinese-design spacesuit, and the demonstration of technologies and techniques for orbital rendezvous and docking. At a time when the U.S. space program is facing a potential hiatus from manned space flight as the venerable space shuttles are retired, China's manned space program is clearly on the rise.

Number 5: U.S. Air Force EELV program completes another year of launch perfection

The quiet giant in space launch, America's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, under the management of the U.S. Air Force, posted another perfect year of flawlessly launching critical national security payloads for the U.S. government. With the robust capabilities of the Boeing Delta rocket family and the Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket family now under the consolidated management of United Launch Alliance, the Air Force has now achieved an unprecedented string of more than 60 consecutive successful launches. If anything, Air Force Space Command and its launch wings at Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral Air Force Bases have made this look too easy. This is still rocket science and Space Command deserves its "props" for one of the great accomplishments of the space age.

Number 4: India's space program shoots for the moon

Not to be outdone by China and Japan, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) got the space faring world's attention in 2008 with three significant events. First came the successful launch and recovery of a spacecraft built to demonstrate the capabilities required to re-enter a manned capsule into Earth's atmosphere and recover it. Second came the announcement by India that ISRO's budget would be doubled, with a stated goal of getting to the moon. Third, and most recent, was the first successful launch of a lunar spacecraft by ISRO. Chandrayaan-1 was placed in lunar orbit on Nov. 8 to begin a two-year mission of lunar resource mapping and imaging.

Number 3: Space returns to the national debate

Largely absent from presidential politics for more than a generation, space returned to the national debate in 2008 as candidates Barack Obama and John McCain worked to position themselves in battleground states with significant space assets and economies. California with its huge electoral college contingent, Colorado with the nation's second-largest space economy, Florida with its critical space coast assets, Ohio with the NASA Glenn Research Center, and Texas with the NASA Johnson Space Center all figured prominently in the presidential campaign. As a result, both candidates adopted pro-space exploration planks in their platforms. President-elect Barack Obama, in particular, not only developed a significant pro-exploration agenda, but authored a powerful "dear colleague" letter asking Congress to support an increase in NASA's budget.  In turn, many members of Congress embraced space as an issue, forcing the examination of current plans to retire the space shuttle and rely upon Russia for the transportation of American astronauts to and from orbit.

Number 2: Water and other prerequisites of life found on Mars

Only in a year dominated by global economic crises and a U.S. presidential campaign could news of this magnitude get buried on page two of your local newspaper. The Mars Phoenix Lander not only discovered water ice beneath the Martian soil, its cameras on board the extra-terrestrial laboratory actually captured images of a Martian snowfall in progress. Combined with geological evidence turned up by the plucky Spirit and Opportunity rovers (now operating five years beyond their original 90-day mission design), soil analysis performed by Phoenix has confirmed the presence of minerals and nutrients which, with water, form the basic requirements for life as we know it. As the secrets of the Red Planet continue to be revealed, fundamental answers to the big questions about life in the universe become ever nearer our grasp. They compel us to mount a manned expedition as soon as humanly possible.

Number 1: Barack Obama elected President

Volumes will be written about the election of Senator Barack Obama and its historic importance for the United States of America. I'll leave that to the many authors who are no doubt grinding out books on the subject even now. The importance of this election for America's space programs, however, cannot be understated. Obama as a candidate evolved, over time, one of the most comprehensive and pro-exploration positions on space to have been articulated by a candidate for President since the landslide victory of Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. President-elect Obama's platform calls for re-establishing a National Space Council, better funding for NASA, reinvigoration of our nation's commitment to exploration, a focus on advanced research and development within all the nation's space enterprises, and using this renewed commitment to inspire, enable, and propel a new generation of space explorers. Obama's NASA transition team was in place within days of the election -- a clear indication that space will be a high priority in this administration.

Like any President-elect, Obama will face the challenges of translating campaign plans and promises into action. He will do so in an environment of record deficits, in a time of sifting through the wreckage of unprecedented financial collapse and urgent requirements to reform national policies and recapitalize the military, whose people and equipment are burned up and burned out after 17 years of continuous war fighting.

Still, Obama's message has been one of hope and change. The view from here is that if the energy which fueled his campaign can be harnessed going forward, 2009 could be a year in space unlike any other as, 50 years after Sputnik, America prepares to launch The Next Space Age.

This article is part of Space Watch: December 2008 (Volume: 7, Issue: 12).