When Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to launch a lunar mission by 2024, it was as if someone had placed the nation’s renewed interest in human spaceflight inside of an accelerator.
Suddenly there was a timeline. A palpable air of urgency arose.
Some balked at the enormity of the task ahead. Without question returning American astronauts to the moon’s surface is a monumental undertaking. What some failed to consider, however, was the work that has already been done. The years of research, design and manufacturing putting the mission within reach.
And no single place has played a greater role in laying the necessary foundation for lunar mission success than Alabama.
Last week, NASA published a column entitled From Alabama to the Moon. The article outlined with great detail the essential role our state will have fulfilled when the boots of American astronauts settle into lunar soil, once again. The work and accomplishments which have occurred from within the state of Alabama are the reason the nation dare dream of returning itself to its place of superiority in space.
And, in this new era of human spaceflight, no one is more responsible for positioning Alabama as the hub for aerospace advancement than Senator Richard Shelby.
Senator Shelby has served as a tireless champion for the people, organizations and projects which now permit America to view a 2024 mission as an attainable goal. His vision for what the country needed for its space program, and how his home state could lead the effort, has fueled national optimism for the next phase of space exploration.
There was a reason why Vice President Pence announced the administration’s plans for a lunar mission from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, along with the countless aerospace providers in the area, have long served as the backbone of the nation’s space program, and Senator Shelby has consistently fought for their growth and well-being.
Senator Shelby recently explained to Yellowhammer News his views on why the relationship between America’s space program and Alabama works so well.
“Huntsville has always played a critical role in the success of our nation’s space program,” he said. “The innovation and research taking place in North Alabama, and at Marshall specifically, have created economic benefits for our entire state and encouraged young professionals to enter STEM fields. Further, these efforts will soon take humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars.”
Senator Shelby’s support of Marshall Space Flight Center becomes even more critical in light of its economic impact on the Yellowhammer State. Marshall supports more than 28,000 jobs in Alabama with a $4.5 billion economic impact.
An example of Senator Shelby’s persistent focus on pursuing the best outcomes for the nation — and Alabama — popped up in a senate hearing last month. It was there that he gained a public commitment from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine that the agency would utilize the Space Launch System (SLS) for the lunar mission, as well as other long-range space missions.
SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built, and the only rocket capable of carrying the Orion aircraft, astronauts and supplies to the moon in one launch. Its design and development is overseen entirely from Marshall Space Flight Center with its own significant value to the state’s economy. The SLS program supports more than 15,000 jobs in Alabama with a $2.1 billion economic output.
So in a fitting response to Bridenstine’s commitment, Senator Shelby declared, “What’s important is to build that rocket and build it right.”
The importance of the state to human spaceflight is widely-acknowledged.
Rick Navarro, director of launch operations for Boeing, stood in front of a rocket in Decatur last month and remarked on the area’s effect on our history in space.
“The entire area has actually contributed to human spaceflight,” he explained. “You cannot tell the story of human space flight without telling the story of northern Alabama. Of Decatur. Of Huntsville.”
And Senator Shelby is the driving force behind the renaissance of America’s space program.
Furthermore, the experts who have devoted their lives to space exploration have a keen understanding of his role.
When Yellowhammer News asked United Launch Alliance president and CEO Tory Bruno about Senator Shelby in an interview in March, Bruno’s eyes widened and a broad smile overtook his face as he responded.
“Anyone who has the voice that Senator Shelby has is great to have in a place, where he really appreciates your team and what you do for the country,” he stated emphatically. “He has been to our factory many times; he understands what we do; he understands the reliability that we bring to the critical missions that we perform for the country.”
Even through a humble, understated response to an inquiry from Yellowhammer News, one can sense a certain level of satisfaction with the immeasurable contribution Senator Shelby has made to the history of America’s space program.
“I am proud of the remarkable work taking place within the space industry in Alabama and look forward to continuing on this strong path of success,” he concluded.
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News