By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— This week the member of the state’s newly formed Spaceport Authority Committee convened in Montgomery to the lay the ground work for Alabama’s future in space.
An idea championed by state Senator Gerald Dial (R-Linevile) is making it ways toward reality. “Years ago someone decided the the international airport should be in Atlanta and look what it has done for them,” said Dial. “Imagine what this will mean to our state to become an international spaceport. It will create jobs, put us on the forefront of technology and the make Alabama a vital part of the future.”
Since the 1950s, Alabama has been the central hub of manned space flight. With the establishment of George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), in Huntsville, the state’s preeminence has remained unquestioned.
Dial, says it is time to build on the talent and ability in the state to build the preeminent spaceport in the country.
From the beginning, Dial has been joined in his efforts by Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville) who believes that all Alabamians should proudly embrace the building of the spaceport, “This will be an Alabama port, not a local port or a county port. It is an Alabama port. I hope that the Legislators and the people of Alabama will understand that this is a project that will benefit all Alabamians for generations to come. Not just one place in Alabama but our entire state effecting the lives of all our people for generations.”
Dr. Deborah Barnhart, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s CEO, has joined the Authority bringing her wealth of experience and ideas to the project. “I personally believe that Spaceport is only one piece of what we should be looking at in regard to space, a very important piece, but it may come in the line of many other things that we can do that will bolster and support Alabama in the space industry,” said Barnhart.
Barnhart says that the big player in private space flight are either in Huntsville or looking some way to come to the area.
“Of course the commercial environment that will surround it is incredible. We already have ULA [United Launch Alliance] in Decatur. But people like Bigelow Aerospace are eager to come to Huntsville,” she said. “He is looking for a place on the river where he can ship his space vehicles. He already has three on orbit. It is not imaginary. Yet, he is looking for another location.”
She points out to the committee that, “Space X is already going back and forth to the Space Station. And Stratolaunch Systems, one of Paul Allen’s companies, is now opening in Huntsville which will do a high-altitude drop of orbital craft.”
Senator Dial said during the discussion, “The Alabama Spaceport will provide longterm economic development opportunities for Alabama.
Our colleges are developing some of the best minds in the science, math and engineering fields….lets create jobs so they stay in Alabama.”
The State must receive authorization from the Space Transportation Development Division in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation to begin building the site.
Michael McElligott from the Federal Aviation Administration has visited with Dial and other Legislators in the last few months in preparation for the federal approval process. Dial says that he continues to have very good dialogue with McElligott and is very encouraged by his support.
Jim Byard, Director of ADECA and John Cooper Director of ALDOT are also members of the Spaceport Authority Committee and Cooper will be taking the lead in writing the grant proposal to submit to the federal government. Byrad and Barhart have offered to assist in the effort.
“I fully expect in my lifetime to be able to take a little trip with maybe my grandchildren to go see a couple of orbital sunrises and sunsets,” said Barnhart. She said that Alabama should be the spot for takeoff and safe landing.
Other member of the Spaceport Authority Committee are:
Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison)
Rep Mac McCutcheon, (R- Capshaw)
Greg Canfield Secretary, Department of Commerce