Colorado in space: Buzz Aldrin's son on how a spaceport would change the state's economy

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Colorado currently hosts the number two space economy in the country, but the possibility of adding a spaceport on the Front Range could raise our rank while raising the industry's stakes. Whether you plan to see the moon in your lifetime or not, the issue is a hot topic for business and aerospace officials alike. We spoke to Dr. Andrew Aldrin, director of business development at United Launch Alliance, about Colorado's future in the industry.

Tonight, Aldrin will present his thoughts in more detail at the DaVinci Institute's monthly Night with a Futurist, where he is scheduled to speak along with four other experts on the industry. "The night will discuss what the possibilities are, what the feasibility is for Colorado specifically and what our future opportunities are to step into space," says Andrew Frey, the institute's director of communications." With NASA's uncertain future, the roles individual states are playing in policies and creation are becoming more interesting and more important. And as Thomas Frey, our senior futurist, always says, we're a mile closer to space than any other place."

Although the event has been in the works for months, its roster recently jumped by two when industry personalities heard about it and asked to come onboard. Speakers will tackle state space topics -- Aldrin's is the spaceport -- for approximately fifteen minutes each between five-minute sessions of question and answer time. For more information on tonight's event, visit the DaVinci Institue's website.

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Dr. Andrew Aldrin.
Westword: How has Colorado distinguished itself from other key players in the space race?

Andrew Aldrin: I think the most important thing in any state is looking into providing a stable industrial and employment base. Education is key, and Colorado has a huge advantage because we're a hub of world-class education universities. We're always concerned about getting the highest possible quality of education, because that's how we attract and cultivate the future of all of this. There are concerns in the industry (about whether it's recruiting as many people as it used to), but we've done very well in Colorado. We seem to be able to attract good talent consistently.

WW: Why is that?

Aldrin: Because it's a good place to live, honestly.

WW: But we're number two in the country (behind California). How do we become number one?

Aldrin: I think it's less about competition between states and more about generating a robust competition. Or at least that's how I'd like to see it. There's tremendous opportunity for us to move up. From a national security standpoint, space is always one of the strongest ways of rounding out our protection of the troops, aside from just a new frontier for exploration and expansion. One of the big things we're still seeing out of NASA right now is they're starting to transfer the transportation crew from Earth to the space station, just transferring those services over to the private sector. There are at least two companies, including ULA, who are working with contractors in Colorado on that task, which is significant.

There's exploration with NASA, and Colorado is also developing alliances for human exploration. That's one of the reasons we decided to headquarter out company here. I think there are real opportunities for creating positive policies at the state level. You can look at states such as Alabama, where they have made large advances in aerospace technology and business by working to augment their state policies. I can't think of any way that Colorado is lacking in that respect, but it is a place for all states to continue to grow. I don't expect to see huge budget increases -- in fact, I don't expect to see any government increases -- but the real potential is in the commercial sphere.

WW: How could a spaceport affect Colorado's role in the industry?

Aldrin: Well, I'll talk about that mostly during my speech tonight, so I don't want to say everything before that. My speech is more for people from the Colorado business community; the people in aerospace industry understand pretty well. The things I plan on talking about are what the benefits will be to the position of Colorado as a state in the national aerospace community and what a spaceport really means to the very long-term future of spaceflight. I should note that ULA is playing an indirect role in this. We're not going to be launching from the spaceport, but we recognize that it would be a tremendous move for the industry as a whole.

But there are a lot of challenges involved in the space race, too, which we need to consider. I think we have to be very careful about timing and understand the market. There's a lot of market uncertainty, and that will be resolved over the next few years. One of the things the state needs to understand is when the market will become certain, when it is safe to engage in a venture like this and how to also protect the state's economy. But there's a tremendous upside if everything comes together -- which I will talk about more tonight.

WW: Will we get to visit the cosmos in this lifetime?

Aldrin: That's certainly the goal.

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Robert Chase
Robert Chase

The spaceport is supposed to be for yet-to-be-demonstrated craft that take off and land horizontally.  Being a mile closer to space is of less significance in terms of the economy of most launches to orbit than is latitude -- the closer to the equator, the faster the rotational velocity of the Earth, and the less fuel must be expended to reach orbit.  This is why the European Union launches its Ariane rockets from French Guiana.  Launches from Denver would derive 26% less energy from the Earth than do those from Cape Canaveral.  There may be good reasons to push a spaceport for Colorado, but in a region lacking adequate public transit or functional schools (or a daily newspaper capable of covering the issue), a spaceport for putative space tourists is about the last thing on which public monies should be spent.

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