“So this is the next chapter that we can write together here at NASA. We will partner with industry. We will invest in cutting-edge research and technology. We will set far-reaching milestones and provide the resources to reach those milestones. And step by step, we will push the boundaries not only of where we can go but what we can do.” – President Barack Obama
Back in April of this year, President Obama announced a bold new vision and approach to human space exploration for the 21st Century from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. While he was speaking, few in the black community noticed the proposed increases to NASA’s budget to the tune of $6 billion over the next 5 years targeted mostly for private companies to lead the effort developing advanced spacecraft technologies, increase human spaceflight, decrease costs and create thousands of jobs. This can be the start of something dramatic and game changing especially with the retirement of the Space Shuttle in less than 5 years. Just as many of today’s internet and technology barons were fostered to some degree by government financial infusion and support, so are Obama’s plans for the aerospace industry. One thing that is certain, the space game will never be the same. In effect, the president has issued a clarion call to entrepreneurs of every walk in life that his administration will be seeding a whole new space flight industry – one that is more commercial and as we know, historically less welcoming to black businesspeople.
African Americans entrepreneurs, should not be dissuaded by the past and without delay begin to aggressively make their way through NASA’s and private sector doors. If not to learn more about partnership opportunities for minorities within their operations, but they should also be finding a place at the table because of the severe need for more jobs in the black community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2010 report, African American unemployment is hemorrhaging at a deplorable 15.4% and has been holding steady in that range for over a year. To offer comparison, the white unemployment rate is a mere 8.6% and only recently dropped to that level as the effects of the President’s stimulus efforts began winding down.
Something that should give African Americans more reason to pause is the 2002 Space Tourism Market Study by the Futron Corporation which indicates that the public space travel industry alone could grow to be worth over $1 Trillion by 2021, ferrying over 15,000 passengers on orbital and suborbital trips. Put in context, who would have thought the Internet in 1995 would have such a big impact on our economy and everyday lives as it does today (over $1.4 Trillion). Do the same possibilities hold for the commercial space industry? Will this mean new R&D, business opportunities and career opportunities for African Americans firms and HBCU’s in sectors traditionally associated and not associated with space such as space travel agencies, specialty foods, construction, health and fitness, sports, consulting services, communications, etc?
There is a vocal segment of opposition in Congress to the president’s new plan mainly from delegations in Florida and Texas – who stand to lose the most. Thankfully on the frontlines and intrinsically involved in charting NASA’s next steps are members of the Congressional Black Caucus such as Congresswomen Donna Edwards of Maryland, Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Congressman Chakah Fattah of Pennsylvania, who serves on the House Committee on Appropriations, Sub-Committee on Science State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies. Because of their committee assignments these three members as well as other CBC members will all have a hand in setting the course for NASA. Others influential in this process will be Congress members with large NASA and space industry facilities which employ thousands of Americans in their districts such as Congresswomen Eddie Bernice Johnson and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. The African American members of Congress will have a definite impact on how NASA goes forward and how we proceed as a space faring nation in relation to man’s new adventure beyond the cradle of earth.
Allen Herbert, Vice President, JAKA Consulting Group. Allen is a graduate of University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aero-space Engineering, and a Government Relations/Business Development executive with 20+ years experience in business development, strategic planning, international business and technology projects.