Bill Nelson has a storied career of public service to Florida, serving as a state representative, a U.S. representative, state insurance commissioner and treasurer, and most recently U.S. Senator. The Miami and Melbourne native, who flew in space as a Congressman, provided a glimpse into the future “gee-whiz projects” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) while reminding the audience that “space flight is a hard and risky business.”
In December, NASA will launch the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful telescope ever made. It will be positioned on the other side of the Sun pointing away from Earth. “It’s going to look back and capture the life from over 13 billion years ago, the light that was emitted about 250 years after the Big Bang. For the first time we are going to see the formation of the first galaxy, the first sun, the first solar system, and planets. And we’re going to look for an inhabitable atmosphere. And if we find it, we’re going to see what it looked like so many years ago,” said Nelson.
Florida’s Cape Canaveral was the birthplace of U.S. spaceflight in 1958 with Project Mercury. Today, the space industry in Florida comprises 17,144 aerospace-related companies employing more than 130,000 employees, according to Space Florida. Administrator Nelson discussed the growing privatization of commercial spaceflight and its impact on Florida. “We have a space program in Florida that has come to life. Old abandoned launch pads from years ago are roaring to life.”
Nelson shared the numbers: In 2020, Florida spaceport operations had a direct economic impact of $2.25 billion in just sales on Florida’s economy, not including the additional indirect impacts such as the supply chains and spending of all space-related workers. “You put all that together, it’s about a $4 billion annual impact on Florida. The economic indicators translate into good paying jobs.”
His address came the same week as Governor Ron DeSantis announced Terran Orbital will invest $300 million in Florida to build the world’s largest satellite manufacturing facility in Merritt Island.
Florida, Nelson said, is playing a larger than ever role in humankind’s return to the moon – and beyond. The largest rocket ever made is being put together today in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral, as part of the Artemis Program, building on the legacy of the Apollo Program. “And in the Artemis generation, we go back to the moon, to learn, to inhabit the moon, to conduct all kinds of new scientific industry, to do manufacturing to learn how to live there in a hostile environment in preparation, late in the decade of the 2030s, we’re going with humans to Mars,” Nelson outlined. Those new trips to the moon will include the first landing by a woman and by the first person of color, “that will represent the broad diversity of the diverse fabric of America.”
Nelson said NASA is going to be the catalyst for the growth of the space industry. “We’re going to learn how to take moondust, regolith to the scientist, and how to mix it with a compound and make cement and how to build habitats on the surface of the moon as we prepare to go to Mars.” Another program is going to launch probes to the south pole of the moon, where water in the form of ice is present. “And then we’re going there and we’re going to convert that water to rocket fuel, hydrogen and oxygen. And it’s going to become the gas station very likely for the future spacecraft that will be in lunar orbit, developed, assembled and gassed up from the hydrogen and oxygen on the moon to go all the way to Mars,” Nelson predicted.
From the next powerful telescope looking at mankind’s origins, to quieter supersonic jetliners, and to the Artemis Program to take men and women back to the Moon and beyond – it’s all part of a “healthy and vibrant space industry” with Florida at the heart of the exciting action.