10 months ago

‘From Alabama to the Moon’ — Richard Shelby is the driving force making America’s space dreams a reality

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

24 mins ago

AlabamaWorks surveying businesses on workforce impacts of COVID-19

AlabamaWorks on Wednesday announced a new way for Yellowhammer State businesses to report how they continue to be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Alabama COVID-19 Workforce Response Survey is designed to help policymakers fully understand the impact of this pandemic on the state’s workforce, as well as provide a clear path forward for businesses, industry and state government when determining the future focus of workforce in the state.

Responses to the survey will be accepted through Tuesday, April 21 at 5:00 p.m. CT. All Alabama businesses are highly encouraged to participate as the responses will help to protect the state’s workforce, manage the impact of COVID-19 and guide allocation of various resources.

“I am grateful to the Alabama Workforce Council for developing and deploying this much needed and user-friendly survey,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.

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“As we work together to combat COVID-19’s impact, this tool will allow us to identify the needs of business and industry, resources that can help them and how we can best support Alabama’s businesses owners and hardworking Alabamians and their families,” the governor added.

The official survey can be completed here.

“While these are challenging times, we fully understand that now, more than ever, business and industry leaders must continue to work together with Governor Ivey’s administration and various state agencies to move us all forward together,” stated Alabama Workforce Council Chairman Tim McCartney. “Rest assured there is an unwavering commitment to do everything we can to minimize the negative impact COVID-19 has on our businesses, our economy, the state and all of its citizens. Using the results from this survey, I know we can all make a difference in combating the challenges from this pandemic facing so many throughout Alabama.”

You can up with the latest coronavirus-related information from AlabamaWorks here.

RELATED: State of Alabama launches online coronavirus response hub — ‘We are all in this together’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Price of gas plummets as Alabamians stay home

Prices for a gallon of gasoline across Alabama have plummeted amid a glut of supply from overseas coupled with a lack of customers due to coronavirus precautions.

According to data collected by AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Alabama was $1.689 on Wednesday, the lowest since 2016, and one of the lowest prices for the state in the last 15 years.

United States consumers went through 6,659,000 barrels of gas per day during the week ending March 27, a 37% decrease from the same week one year earlier and the lowest weekly number since the 1990s.

That number is expected to fall further, as more states have enacted “shelter-in-place” and “stay-at-home” orders since the most recent data was tabulated.

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J. Bart Fletcher, head of the Petroleum & Convenience Marketers of Alabama, an industry group, told Yellowhammer News over the phone that he has had many conversations with the convenience store owners that comprise his organization.

“I’m hearing anywhere from 20-40% drop in retail volume across the state,” he said when asked about how the coronavirus precautions were affecting sales.

According to Fletcher, rural stations are seeing less of a dropoff in sales than urban stores.

In addition to the drop in travelers caused by coronavirus precautions, oil prices have been subjected to a feud between Russia and Saudia Arabia, two of the largest oil-producing countries.

Saudia Arabia, in early March, reduced the prices of its crude oil output in an attempt to undercut Russian prices and gain dominance on the international market.

Russia, unfazed, proceeded apace with their oil production, resulting in an increased drop in prices for most customers around the world.

A meeting to potentially end the feud was postponed late last week.

“The issues we’ve seen with Saudi Arabia and Russia … is really the primary reason for the lowering of the retail gasoline prices,” Fletcher told Yellowhammer.

“Like any other product, the wholesale price determines what the retail price will be,” he added.

Fletcher said the convenience stores across Alabama are worried about “maintaining an adequate supply of employees,” which he says is a challenge faced by retailers across the state.

“My members are installing plexiglass between their retail clerks and their customers,” said Fletcher when asked how stores are adapting to these times of crisis.

Fletcher promised that his members will stay open and ready to serve across the state “so that people can keep on with their lives to the best degree possible.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Ed Farm hires Waymond Jackson as CEO of the Apple initiative in Alabama

Ed Farm has hired Waymond Jackson Jr. as its first CEO.

Short for “education farm,” the tech-focused education and workforce development initiative backed by Apple and the Alabama Power Foundation is already showing its value in the COVID-19 crisis. Jackson told Alabama NewsCenter he is looking at ways Ed Farm can build on its current work and what it looks like after the pandemic.

“Ed Farm, I think the program itself, could not have come at a better time,” he said. “When you think about the mission of that organization or what the program talks about – digital learning skills, equipping teachers with new-age technology for digital, transformative learning. You think about what’s occurring now with school not being in and you’re having to shift to a digital learning environment. A lot of the programming that exists at Ed Farm right now is set up to help in that way.”

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Waymond Jackson named CEO of Ed Farm from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Although Ed Farm was announced Feb. 27, one of its key programs, Teacher Fellows, spent more than a year prior to that equipping teachers in the Birmingham City Schools system to provide innovative approaches to the classroom, including distance learning.

As CEO, Jackson will be in charge of managing and developing external partnerships, recruiting funding partners, overseeing Ed Farm program expansion and launching a global education technology accelerator in Birmingham and beyond.

He expects Ed Farm to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a great story to share with the world. In fact, discussions of where Ed Farm goes after COVID-19 are taking place with Apple and others.

“One of the things that’s been talked about with Ed Farm is this idea of having a global education technology accelerator right here in Birmingham that will bring people from all across the world to launch education technology here,” Jackson said. “When you think about the response that needs to come next, this is the perfect time for entrepreneurs and educators and individuals who have a passion for education, who have a passion for increasing education aptitude in not only urban areas, but in rural areas, to come together in an accelerator type of environment to look at those ideas that need to be in place to advance education now and education in the future.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook, an Alabama native, was in Birmingham for Ed Farm’s launch in February.

“The Ed Farm is about clearing a path for anyone – of any age, background or interest – whether or not they’re destined for a career in technology,” Cook said at the launc. “This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, of a strong vision for the future, of the tireless advocacy of educators, students and Birmingham leaders. With the team we’ve built here, with the Birmingham community, and with an abiding faith in education’s power as a ‘great equalizer’ – I’m grateful to walk this path together, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

Apple’s Community Education Initiative has given Ed Farm hardware, software, funding and professional learning support. The program will use Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum, which is being used in more than 5,000 schools around the world.

Adding Jackson as CEO is another key part of Ed Farm’s foundation, officials said.

“Waymond has the leadership skills and industry knowledge necessary for advancing Ed Farm’s mission,” said Anthony Oni, chairman of Ed Farm. “His workforce development experience aligns perfectly with our need to connect learners to the education, technology and support they need to enter the workforce prepared to lead and compete globally.”

Deon Gordon, president and CEO of TechBirmingham, said Jackson steps into the new job with a keen understanding of Ed Farm.

“Waymond has been a part of our efforts to elevate Ed Farm and deepen our region’s relationship with Apple practically since the beginning,” he said. “He is board chairman of TechBirmingham and I’m super excited to see the impact both organizations will continue to make through our partnership and due to his leadership as we grow and scale.”

Before joining Ed Farm, Jackson was senior vice president of Public Policy for the Birmingham Business Alliance, where he earned a national reputation for advancing workforce development initiatives. Most notably, Jackson founded OnBoard Birmingham and the Talent Recruitment Project – the Birmingham Business Alliance’s first early talent retention and recruitment program.

“This is a great leadership opportunity for Waymond and a natural progression for him following the work he has done at the Birmingham Business Alliance in workforce development and public policy,” said Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the BBA. “Because the BBA is currently looking for a new CEO, Waymond’s position won’t immediately be filled. The BBA is fortunate to have in place an experienced team in public policy, talent attraction and community development to ensure a seamless transition for our Investors and community partners.”

Jackson is excited about his new role.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization, to work with the team that’s at the Ed Farm, to work with the great board members that are there and the strong corporate partners that we have right now in Apple and Alabama Power,” Jackson said.

Jackson will help lead Ed Farm as it scales beyond its pilot programs.

“The beauty about Ed Farm and how it is set up now is Birmingham is just the tip of the iceberg for this initiative,” he said. “This is something that has been pitched as being here in Birmingham, but having a global reach, a global impact. So we’re well underway in thinking through what that looks like.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Talladega Superspeedway to host blood drive Wednesday

A blood drive is Wednesday, April 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Talladega Superspeedway.

The blood drive will be inside the track’s International Motorsports Hall of Fame FOX Sports 1 dome located at the main entrance. Track officials said the goal is to help increase a healthy and reliable blood supply for the American Red Cross to provide area hospitals.

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“We are honored to assist our community during this unprecedented time, working with public health care officials and the American Red Cross for this very important blood drive,” said Talladega Superspeedway President Brian Crichton. “The FOX Sports 1 Dome is a 30,000-square-foot facility and offers plenty of space to practice social distancing so donors will feel safe while donating blood.”

Measures the Red Cross will take to make donors more comfortable upon their visit include:

  • Everyone will have their temperature taken before entering the blood drive, including staff and volunteers.
  • Additional spacing will be provided between beds and stations to go above social distancing guidelines.
  • No more than 15 people will be allowed in the venue at a time (including donors, staff and volunteers).
  • All recommended safety protocols will be used, including wearing gloves, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for every donation and preparing each arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.
  • Having hand sanitizer available.

The Red Cross is asking only for those that are healthy to donate. If you suspect you may be sick to any extent, the organization pleads to postpone your donation to a later time.

Appointments are required, as there will be no walkups. A blood donor card, a driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Donors 18 years of age and younger have to meet certain height and weight requirements, including weighing at least 110 pounds and being in generally good health.

For more information or to make an appointment to donate, download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) sponsor code: TALLADEGA.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Bradley Byrne as Secretary of Navy possibility? Says he is ‘flattered,’ but likelihood of being asked ‘pretty low’

As of late, there has been a tremendous amount of turmoil in the U.S. Navy at a very critical time in the country. In the wake of the USS Theodore Roosevelt coronavirus outbreak and the dismissal of Capt. Brett E. Crozier, as the ship’s commanding officer, came Tuesday’s resignation of acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

Modly will be replaced by Undersecretary of the Army James McPherson, a retired rear admiral. Waiting in the wings to take the post permanently is President Donald Trump’s nominee Kenneth Braithwaite, the U.S. ambassador to Norway. The U.S. Senate has yet to take up Braithwaite’s nomination. However, that could be in jeopardy as well, according to a Politico report from earlier this year.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, with eight months left in his congressional term is U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), who is coming off a failed bid for the U.S. Senate seat up in November. Despite lacking military service, Byrne has ties to the U.S. Navy and congressional experience dealing with it as well. If the Braithwaite nomination falls through, could Byrne, a Trump loyalist, be a Secretary of the Navy possibility?

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It was raised by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), who currently serves in the state senate seat representing Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay that Byrne once occupied.

In an interview with Huntsville’s WVNN on Tuesday, Byrne responded to a question about that possibility, saying he would consider if offered but downplayed the possibility.

“Of course, if the opportunity presented itself, I would,” Byrne said. “You know, I’m on the seapower subcommittee. I work with the Navy a lot and have loved the work I’ve done with them. I certainly understand the importance that they play to the defense of the United States. The President has already got someone appointed to be the Secretary of the Navy awaiting confirmation. Modly just tendered his resignation today, and the President has already appointed the Undersecretary of the Army to be the acting Secretary of the Navy. The likelihood I’m going to be called to do something like that is pretty low. I’ll just keep on doing my job as the congressman from the first congressional district and be happy with it.”

“Don’t get me wrong — I’m flattered, and I’d love to do it,” he added. “The President has already got people in place, and this is no time to be upsetting the applecart. But you know, if the President of the United States calls me up and says, ‘I need you to go do something with the Navy,’ I’m going to say, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Commander-in-Chief,’ and go do what he asked me to do. I just don’t think it’s very likely that that is going to happen.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.