By Rod Pyle
The 2017 International Space Development Conference is over, but the effect of the conference will continue for months to come. With over 800 attendees, and an unprecedented number of international and youth participants, our message will have an important and meaningful impact on the space advocacy community and beyond.
There were a number of major figures from the space community present, including many you have come to know well through the pages of Ad Astra and the NSS newsletters. Notable among them were Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration Operations Directorate, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency, and Andy Aldrin, Director of the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute. The rostrum also hosted two Lieutenant Generals with stellar spaceflight credentials: Tom Stafford, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and Steven Kwast, Commander and President, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Their messages may have come from a military perspective, but they spoke of a future beneficial to all involved.
Stafford delivered a rousing talk on his perspectives as an astronaut and his take on our future in the final frontier. A veteran of two Gemini flights, he first flew on Gemini 6 with Wally Schirra, and then aboard Gemini 9 with Gene Cernan. He then flew on Apollo 10 with Cernan, experiencing the first lunar emergency when their Lunar Module spun out of control during a low-altitude test flight over the lunar surface: When he jettisoned the descent stage of the lunar module, the ascent stage went into a spin, coming dangerously close to the surface before he recovered control through his deft piloting skills. His final spaceflight was aboard the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the final flight of the Apollo program, which lasted nine days. Shortly after arriving in orbit, his Apollo Command Module docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule, and for 44 hours the two crews shared food and the camaraderie of brothers in space during the height of the cold war.
Stafford was emphatic about what our country can do when challenged. During the space race, Launch Complex 39, the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Saturn V Moon rocket, Apollo Command Module, and Lunar Module were all created from whole cloth in less than six years. These machines, and the people who designed and built them, enabled the greatest journeys of exploration in human history. Stafford advocated strongly for the maintenance of American supremacy in space.
The second blue-suiter, General Steven Kwast, provided similarly inspirational testimony about the imperative for our nation to maintain the high ground—not for war, but to maintain peace. Kwast’s moving speech inspired attendees to look towards maintaining a leadership position in the protection of our precious planet, currently challenged not just politically but environmentally as well. His speech was a voice of restraint and stability in an age of great uncertainty.
Representing the old and new guard of Air Force leadership, both men are emblematic of the continued strong and enlightened command of the United States Air Force and its continuing quest to ensure the peaceful exploration and utilization of space for the betterment of all humanity.