Raytheon CEO: 'We are at a crossroads in space'

April 17, 2012
photo - Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson  Photo by
Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson Photo by  

The U.S. should not abandon space flight and exploration, Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson said Tuesday at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs as he urged business and political leaders to inspire students to pursue careers in science, engineering, math and technology.

“We are at a crossroads in space, especially in the United States. We face challenges in this political, financial and budget environment and some question the value of space exploration, but that can’t be the legacy of JFK’s challenge,” Swanson told more than 1,000 business, military and government leaders attending the symposium at The Broadmoor International Center, referring to a 1961 speech that  President John F. Kennedy made to a joint session of Congress committing the nation to putting a man on the moon.

“Fifty years later, do we want to do the unthinkable and leave space and opportunities to understand our world and ourselves and the innovations and new technologies that make life easier?” Swanson asked. “We as a nation need to recommit federal dollars to space programs, including human exploration.”

Spending on space has been shifting to the commercial sector; the U.S. retired its fleet of space shuttles last year after Atlantis’ final journey into space, leaving the nation without a way to get astronauts into space by itself.

Swanson described how the 1969 moon landing inspired him to follow a career in the aerospace industry; he said the nation needs to give today’s students their own “man-on-the-moon” moment to inspire them to pursue aerospace careers at a time when much of the industry’s workforce is nearing retirement.

The U.S., he said, should remain in space to reap new technologies, innovations and breakthroughs that have come as a result of the nation’s space program.

“We forget how many areas of our lives have been transformed by space,” Swanson said while pointing to a famous photograph of Earth taken from the moon by astronauts. “Telecommunications advances allow us to make calls anywhere, smartphones bring the power of the Internet to the palm of our hand and satellites allow more accurate weather forecasts and imaging for dealing with natural disasters, maintaining national security and researching the environment. We are thoroughly reliant on space, and it is not hard to take space for granted.”

While the aerospace industry is ready to take a bigger role in space flight and exploration, Swanson said federal  funding is still a necessary ingredient to drive innovation.

“Space can still inspire youth. But how do we inspire (youth) to reach for the stars if they are out of reach?” Swanson said, urging the aerospace industry to do more to build interest in science, technology, engineering and math. “If we seize this moment, years from now, we’ll be amazed how far we’ve come. We’ll inspire new generation of pioneers.”

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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