Text of Jeff Greason's speech at the AvWeek "Century of Flight" celebration at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, Washington D.C.
Tonight, rocketry faces a choice of futures. Despite that exciting history you just saw, during the past thirty years we have progressed so little that our next national space project may be equivalent to an upgraded Gemini capsule.
It is possible that rocketry is mature and that we will see little progress in the next century -- but I do not believe that. I believe we are on the verge of a revolution in rocketry, driven by capitalism and free enterprise. We sometimes forget that Orville and Wilbur Wright were not philanthropists or government contractors -- they were entrepreneurs, who wanted to get rich.
Unlike aircraft, rocketry has been almost exclusively a government enterprise. Now, three privately funded manned rockets are flying, and this morning, one went supersonic over Mojave.
In the near future, chemical rockets can progress from today's single-use devices to rugged powerplants with thousands of flights between overhaul. Together with reusable airframes and thermal protection systems, that can make spaceflight routine, safe, and affordable. Exoatmospheric craft can take passengers from D.C. to Tokyo in less than an hour for the price of an airline ticket today. Passenger flights to orbit for the price of a luxury ocean cruise are within our grasp.
In the farther future, non-chemical rockets can make interplanetary flight affordable and orbital flight cheap.
By the end of this century, short suborbital flights to see the Earth from space will still be popular -- as a nostalgia attraction, taken by those seeking to relive the exciting days at the dawn of the twenty-first century when such flights first became possible.
But this future is not inevitable -- and it will not happen without massive private investment and the prospect of profit. Government must move from the center of the stage to play a supporting role. If government actions discourage investment, forbid risk-taking, and pile up red tape, we can look forward to a future very much like the present.
I was born after the last flight of Gemini, and I have lived long enough for my son to ask me "Dad, did they really used to fly to the Moon when you were a boy?" The choices we make in this decade will determine whether my grandchildren have to ask the same question.
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