In March 1966, the month astronaut Neil R. Armstrong flew on 's Gemini 8 docking mission, the Goddard Space Symposium convened in Washington to examine the future of space exploration. With the industry advancing on a breathtaking trajectory, scientists and engineers outlined grand visions.
“Space activities in the year 2000 will include study by biologists on Mars supported from stations on its moon Phobos, use of a solar physics station on Mercury and the investigation of Jupiter from a base on its satellite, Titan,” wrote Aviation Week & Space Technology reporter Roderick D. Hibben. North American Aviation unveiled a design for an interplanetary spacecraft to carry astronauts on 300-1,000-day missions, while Lockheed's chief space researcher foresaw the use of transport rockets delivering cargo to the Moon “for a few dollars a pound.”
Amid all those optimistic projections was a warning. William G. Purdy of the Martin Co. cautioned that society was on a path where affluence and regulation threatened to choke off interest in “unorthodox inquiries.” By 2000, “we may be far down the road to a well-managed but mediocre [space] technology,” he said. Purdy, who would go on to play a role in the Mars Viking Lander program and be awarded The Aug. 25 death of Armstrong (p. 32), who became the first person to set foot on the Moon in 1969, is a sad reminder of how long it has been since U.S. human spaceflight's glory days.'s Distinguished Public Service Medal, was spot on. Today, the space shuttle orbiters are museum pieces, and the U.S. must rely on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
That is not to say NASA has completely lost its ability to inspire. The risky but successful landing of Curiosity on Mars on Aug. 6 and the dramatic photographs the rover is transmitting (p. 36) have energized interest in planetary exploration, albeit without humans. But the DNA to realize the dreams laid out in 1966 no longer resides in a government that has become averse to risk, hidebound by bureaucracy and providing only a pittance of the financial resources needed to sustain a robust space program. The “right stuff” DNA is now found, in large part, in smaller, more nimble companies in the private sector.
A series of articles beginning on p. 56 focuses on the role small aerospace and defense companies are playing in innovation. Don't tell Dynetics that space is no longer a growth industry. The 1,300-employee company in Huntsville, Ala., has evolved from providing engineering services to the U.S. Army to become an integrator of the Stratolaunch satellite air-launch system now in commercial development. In the U.K., Surrey Satellite Technologies, now owned by , is greatly expanding the capabilities of smaller satellites. And researcher-entrepreneur Noah Rhys believes the U.S. is on the cusp of an “unusual explosion” in space exploration fueled by low-cost innovations from the private sector.
The dreams of 1966 aren't dead. But the path to achieving them will be a lot different than most people back then imagined.
|Current||Previous||Fwd.||Tot. Ret. %||Tot. Ret. %|
|Company Name||Week||Week||P/E||3 Yr.||1 Yr.|
|ACE Aviation Holdings||2.77||2.78||-2.1||159.7||2.7|
|AerCap Holdings N.V.||12.58||12.80||5.9||40.9||15.0|
|Alaska Air Group||33.50||34.47||6.2||159.4||14.9|
|Allegiant Travel Co.||66.05||67.87||12.6||69.3||41.1|
|Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings||51.56||52.77||9.3||104.8||6.4|
|BBA Aviation plc||2.99||2.99||10.5||40.1||21.1|
|B/E Aerospace Inc.||40.21||40.03||13.3||121.1||14.2|
|Copa Holdings SA||77.04||79.42||9.5||93.1||19.1|
|Hawaiian Holdings Inc.||5.81||6.36||3.6||-21.3||42.1|
|Lines Co. Ltd.||41.29||42.82||8.5||10.9||-17.8|
|Lan Airlines SA||23.68||24.13||22.0||102.7||-15.6|
|Republic Airways Holdings Inc.||4.50||4.74||4.1||-52.8||37.6|
|TransDigm Group Inc.||138.76||136.27||18.2||270.5||54.3|
|United Continental Holdings, Inc.||18.33||19.35||4.4||181.1||-2.2|
|United Parcel Service Inc.||74.30||76.14||15.4||51.2||13.8|
|WestJet Airlines Ltd.||17.18||17.17||10.0||41.9||26.5|
|Zodiac Aerospace SA||96.32||99.73||12.8||212.4||46.6|
|Source of financial data: Standard & Poor’s and Capital IQ Inc. (a Division of Standard & Poor’s) U.S. dollars and cents. Forward P/E ratio uses S&P and Capital IQ forecasts of current fiscal year.|