AIAA Public Policy Committee Statement of the Last Launch on the Space Shuttle Atlantis

The launch of space shuttle Atlantis on 8 July closes an important epoch in American science, but does not signal the end of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]. Nor, does the launch of Atlantis signal the end of American leadership in aerospace. Today, the United States is better positioned to continue leading the world in space exploration, understanding our planet’s environment, and making discoveries which benefit all of humankind. Just as in aviation, where in one hundred years we have seen the creation of hundreds of thousands jobs in small and large businesses across America selling products globally, in the next fifty years we will see the same in the field of space exploration.

America remains the most capable nation serving humanity and spearheading discovery through aerospace science and technology. The launch of Atlantis is an opportunity to reflect on our achievements in aerospace and to welcome a bright future, destined to benefit from a continuation of America’s contributions driven by advances in aerospace science and engineering.

The launch of space shuttle Atlantis neither erodes nor imperils America’s leadership in discovery in space. Our capacity to expand human knowledge of space, including looking back to the beginning of time, remains strong. For example, America’s outward focused eyes in the form of the Hubble Space Telescope [HST] and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy [SOFIA] continue to lead the world in discovery in space. The ideas, creativity, and technology that produced HST and SOFIA have not disappeared with the last shuttle flight. It is the ideas, creativity, and technology in the capable hands of the aerospace workforce that constitute the engine of America’s strength and leadership in space discovery. That engine is strong and is growing stronger. Our follow-on to Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope [JWST], will be the next great engine of discovery. HST, SOFIA, and JWST are useful eyes in the sky and remind us that international collaboration is a necessity for continued space discovery.

Closer to Earth, NASA’s current and planned discovery activities related to neighboring planets, asteroids, and the moon continue to produce new knowledge that excites humankind. This NASA generated activity is robotic based and also builds a foundation for human involvement in space discovery beyond the moon.

Any chance for humanity to fully understand Earth’s environment depends in large part on NASA’s Earth Observing System [EOS]. Through a series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites, EOS continuously provides new knowledge of Earth as an integrated system. This knowledge impacts our lives in various ways from food production to weather to effective management of natural resources. EOS will continue beyond the last Atlantis shuttle mission this week. Although EOS satellite launches were enabled by the space shuttle, retirement of the space shuttle fleet will not terminate EOS. NASA’s need for future EOS satellites may be launched on existing rockets.

After Atlantis returns to earth, and the space shuttle era ends, NASA and industry research, will continue to provide safe air travel, strength in defense, expanded commerce, steady growth in manufacturing know-how, advances in materials, and high wages form high-skilled jobs. Right now, America’s aeronautics enterprise is stronger than it has been in decades. With vision and support provided by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics [AIAA] and other professional societies, the federal government and industry generate exceptional returns [billions of US dollars] in international trade through the sale and maintenance of aircraft and aircraft engines. America continues to produce the highest quality and most efficient civil and military aircraft and rotorcraft in the world. All economic indicators point to future growth and leadership of America’s aeronautics enterprise. The US aeronautics workforce is rated number one in the world. Our aeronautics designers and manufacturers lead in aircraft advancement. We are well positioned to continue the production of true national wealth through aeronautics. More than the production of national wealth, our way of life and our form of government depend upon our leadership in aeronautics. The launch of Atlantis this week will not change this.

The nation’s leading schools of aerospace engineering are currently experiencing unprecedented growth in student enrollment and increase in government and industry research funds. Outstanding faculty, useful facilitates, and a focus on quantum leap research problems covering the spectrum of aerospace science and technology characterize these leading US schools of aerospace science and engineering. The US is continuing to produce a aerospace workforce that is creative, innovative, well-educated, and prepared to maintain and to enhance America’s leadership in aerospace.

Over the last several decades since the Apollo program landed a human on the moon, NASA has produced more than the shuttle fleet. NASA has been the leader in the federal government in building a foundation that is alive and well, a foundation that enables American leadership in aerospace science and technology. The final Atlantis shuttle flight opens the door for continued growth in aerospace. We are just beginning our discovery in space and advances in aeronautics. America’s creativity, innovation, industry, and universities form a foundation that will propel us to higher level of achievement in aerospace. The post Atlantis world calls for more leadership, discovery, innovation, and creativity from NASA, not less.

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