Today in Arizona


When Iridium wrapped up I reluctantly left Boeing (who had bought McDonnell Douglas) and followed many of my co-workers who moved over to Spectrum Astro, and that has worked out very well. Spectrum Astro was ramping up on a number of missile defense programs and needed engineers. This finally gave me the opportunity to be the power system lead on several programs, including Swift, GLAST/Fermi, and Landsat 8. Around 2004 Spectrum Astro was bought by General Dynamics, and after that didn’t work out, the unit was purchased by Orbital Sciences in 2010. In early 2015, Orbital Sciences and ATK merged to form Orbital ATK.

Meanwhile, the grass roots space movement had lost its momentum, at least from my perspective. I’m not sure if it was that we finally got a space station (that battle was won) and innovative programs like the DC-X were actually seeing hardware, so perhaps there was less incentive for citizen activists. Maybe it was just my personal perception as there was no advocacy club in Phoenix. Several attempts were made to start a chapter of the National Space Society but I didn’t have the energy to do it all myself again. Eventually (around 2011) a Phoenix NSS chapter was established well enough that they were having regular meetings at a fixed location. But it wasn’t like the 1980s in St. Louis.

I hooked up with the local AIAA section and focussed on working with K-12 schools. We did some outreach with schools, science fairs, and events like the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s and John Glenn’s spaceflights, and a Science and Technology Festival. Orbital has been very supportive for some of these outreach events. We held the 2011 celebration of 50 years of manned space flight, a Yuri’s Night event in 2011 and a forum and tour all at Orbital that year. In 2012 I was awarded a national level Sustained Service award from AIAA. In March 2015 we co-sponsored the first SpaceUp Phoenix un-conference (which I personally headed up) and that went very well.

There has been slow progress in growing the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society. In early 2013, I became the chapter president and have held that post thru this writing in 2016. The Phoenix Chapter of NSS now has regular monthly meetings and participated in several Yuri's Night events each April. On my own, I was able to attend the local Space Access Conference in 2013. In May of the same year, I participated in a space modeling panel at Spacefest in Tucson, which was a lot of fun. I had a scale model display and hands-on paper model activity in the STEAM area of Spacefest VII in June of 2016. My thoughts on current topics in the space world can be found on the Phoenix NSS blog at nssphoenix.wordpress.com although I pretty much stopped posting opinion pieces at the end of 2015.

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AIAA exhibit at a teacher resource fair in 2010

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Mike with a cardboard wind tunnel developed thru the AIAA section

The nation is still in a space funk. We never committed to a real follow-on to the space shuttle. The shuttle was a technological wonder but operationally a wrong turn. It never delivered on the idea of lower cost via reusability. You don’t need a manned vehicle to deliver heavy payloads to orbit. Splitting crew delivery from cargo makes sense, and having it done “commercially” (whatever that means) is a good approach. I like the approach of having private industry develop a new generation of Earth to LEO crew taxis as it frees up NASA to focus on deep space opportunities. If private companies can make a buck mining asteroids, that would be wonderful.

But we can’t seem to decide on what to do next regarding true exploration. This is not a new problem. We’ve done all the cheap and easy missions so it is not obvious what the next step ought to be. A manned Mars mission is too risky for a president to support politically and anything less is too conservative (wimpy) so we end up doing nothing.

The activist organizations (NSS and newer ones with more focussed agendas like the Moon Society) are still around but they seem to have less urgency. After all, we have an exciting robotic Mars program and a functioning space station that has been continuously occupied for over ten years. Wasn’t that our goal in 1990?

In the early 21st century the role of these organizations is in flux. Years ago if you wanted to learn about the latest news in space exploration or if you wanted to hang around with people interested in that subject you had to join a club and attend a meeting or go to a conference. Now you can do all of that on the Internet. I have a difficult time coming up with a reason to join the National Space Society.

In 1987 the SLSF had a discussion on how to be more successful as an organization. We were looking at what we were selling. It was more than just memberships and newsletters. Joining our group would not get you merely a subscription, but also access to a social group for like-minded people, an opportunity to network with people with backgrounds in aerospace, education, library service, etc. But now you can do all that on line. You don’t need a “meat-space” organization. At least that seems to be the current trend. But I believe that virtual associations are lacking something. There is much to be said about face to face get-togethers, but this website is not the place to delve into that topic.