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Letter from the Editor

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

This is an exciting week for US spaceflight!

Following close on the rather sobering news of NASA retiring their space shuttles for good, sending them on final missions to science and space museums all over the US instead of shooting for the moon, the first commercial spacecraft was successfully launched last Tuesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The company behind the launch of Dragon, as the cone-shaped space capsule is called, is the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or “SpaceX.” Founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX is aiming to become the world’s first private firm to perform space missions for NASA, now that its space shuttles have been retired.

What we are witnessing is nothing less than the dawn of a new era of commercial space flight. The Dragon cargo ship is scheduled to berth with the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow, Friday May 25th, if all currently performed tests continue as planned (so far, so good – except some minor glitches that were immediately fixed). For this test mission, only about a ton of low-priority cargo is on board Dragon, but if the mission goes successfully, SpaceX hopes to begin regularly scheduled cargo deliveries later this year under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA calling for at least 12 more cargo missions.

Some four decades after the US wrote history with the landing of the Eagle, it seems they are about to write another chapter in the history of space flight when Dragon docks with the ISS, proving to critics and the world at large that a commercial model for space flight does work.


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In Europe, the space policy community has its own challenges to face: While still mourning the unexpected loss of Envisat, the largest nonmilitary satellite in orbit, which had been in operation since 2003, it now appears that the future of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program, the EU’s Earth Monitoring Program, could be at stake – as bridges columnist Christian Eisner writes in his article. A new mode of financing suggested by the European Commission threatens the smooth continuation of the program and, if not decided soon, might significantly delay the planned 2013 launch of the first Sentinel satellite. Sentinel was originally expected to operate in tandem with Envisat for several months. However, given the recent loss of Envisat, a launch soon is now even more urgent to avoid a serious gap in data flow. Yet, any delays in the GMES schedule will cause cost overruns and, in a worst-case scenario, might cause an untimely ending of the program, leaving nothing more than sunken costs.

Apart from the fascination of stretching our knowledge boundaries via space exploration and satellite navigation, let’s not forget the aerospace sector’s significant contribution to an economy’s competitiveness and innovation capacity: In the US, for example, the aerospace industry provides employment for more than 600,000 skilled workers; it also supports some two million middle-class jobs and 30,000 suppliers from all over the country, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. The aerospace sector leads all US manufacturing industries with sales exceeding $214 billion (2009) and has a positive trade balance of $56 billion. Many innovative technologies have emanated from aerospace (and defense) R&D, some well-known examples being jet engines, supersonic flight, radar, and GPS.

The roles of manufacturing and innovation are also tackled by bridges columnists in this issue:

In his article “The Great American Manufacturing Battle,” Roger Pielke analyzes whether or not manufacturing should be treated as a “special sector” that deserves government support because of its role in employment and economic growth. And in a new column titled “Innovation Matters,” previous bridges guest contributor Stephen Ezell, a senior analyst with the Washington think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), shares his insights on the role of innovation in society. His inaugural column focuses on why innovation, automation, and technology still have a bad reputation as job destroyers, despite their proven track record for creating jobs. As Ezell points out, the fact that the presidential election season is about to get in full swing while the US economy remains very fragile with high unemployment rates, might lay the groundwork for such statements: Elected officials and their opponents need to find a culprit to point their finger at, and technology, automation, and innovation have previously provided a convenient boogeyman to blame for the misery.

Lastly, following the old adage of April showers bring May flowers, I’d like to point out the new look of bridges. You may already have noticed the new layout, and I hope you find the new system easy to navigate. The technical update and design overhaul proved more complex than expected, leading to a significant delay in publication of this issue – for the first time ever, the bridges Spring issue goes online in May instead of April. But looking at the results, I think the delay was justified. I would like to congratulate the assistant editor of bridges, Juliet Beverly, who championed this project with the patient help of the IT whizzes at Tenshi.

And speaking of May flowers – when you have a moment, I hope you’ll take a look at another brand new publication that I highly recommend. The team surrounding bridges columnist Norm Neureiter, at the Science Diplomacy Center of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recently published the inaugural issue of Science & Diplomacy. The new magazine seeks to provide a forum for rigorous thought, analysis, and insight to serve stakeholders who develop, implement, and teach all aspects of science and diplomacy. Their online quarterly features a mix of original perspectives and research articles by science and diplomacy practitioners and thinkers from both US and international perspectives in the areas of science for diplomacy, science in diplomacy, and diplomacy for science. Take a look at www.sciencediplomacy.org!

Enjoy your reading,

Caroline Adenberger
Editor


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