Now that the space shuttle program has come to a close many are asking: “Where do we go from here? What is to become of manned spaceflight in the United States? Who will step up and serve as the inspiration for the next generation of scientists, engineers, and astronauts?” One of the organizations hoping to lead the way on these endeavors is the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
According to their website, CSF is the industry association of leading businesses and organizations working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality. Their mission: to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. Currently there are over 40 businesses and organizations that belong to the CSF, with executive members such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, United Launch Alliance, Space Florida, and Masten Space Systems to name a few.
John Gedmark is the Founding Executive Director of CSF, and he is optimistic about the future of human spaceflight in America, for both research and tourism:
“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation encompasses all of the varied uses and markets for commercial spaceflight. One of the great things about commercial spaceflight is that the number of possibilities for the use of low-cost commercial spaceflight is tremendously diverse. The markets being pursued by commercial spaceflight companies include cargo and crew transportation to the International Space Station, flights of private individuals, science research missions, technology research and development, astronaut training, education and outreach activities, and national security applications.”
While the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) primarily regulates commercial space flight, CSF plans to collaborate with them as well as the private sector to maintain human safety ratings. In the case where NASA astronauts would be flying to space as part of a commercial crew, NASA’s safety team would also be involved. Gedmark expressed that the CSF has an “excellent relationship with NASA” as they are a partner in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) and Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CruSR), and are complementary rather than competitive.
While the commercial space sector continues to expand, one question still remains: Are these the organizations that will be inspiring the next generation of explorers? Gedmark believes the commercial spaceflight industry is up to the challenge. Although many young K-12 students are not aware of companies such as SpaceX or the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and their current endeavors, he believes that this will change as we progress in the industry. Gedmark is passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, and believes in the commercial spaceflight industry to serve as something to excite young minds. As for college students, CSF is already seeing great interest and has student interns currently in their Washington, D.C. office. Additionally, through the Research and Education Affiliates program, CSF is partnering with universities and nonprofit organizations. Through this program, affiliates receive a newsletter highlighting internship positions at member corporations, and CSF encourages other universities to contact them to get more information about membership benefits.
Although there has come an end of an era for human spaceflight with the space shuttle, many believe it is not the end of human spaceflight for the United States. There are people and organizations out there still passionate about space exploration and making space accessible to more people. These individuals may serve as the role models for generations to come and inspire them to push forward to explore new worlds. As CSF President, Rear Admiral Craig Steidle stated in April 2011:
“The commercial spaceflight industry encapsulates all that is best about American entrepreneurship – the Wright Brothers’ can-do attitude, Thomas Edison’s penchant for innovation, the job creation fostered by a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and the youthful excitement of Google and Facebook. America badly needs commercial spaceflight to succeed. What could be more motivating to our nation’s youth than a good-news story about job creation, entrepreneurship, inspiration, and old-fashioned can-do spirit?”