Hawaii and NASA unite
Gov. Lingle and a laboratory chief sign a pact to involve isles in space travel
Hawaii took a step closer to the stars yesterday as Gov. Linda Lingle and the director of a top NASA research lab signed an agreement to help the agency find cost-competitive ways into space and a fresh generation of innovators and explorers.
With presidential directives to return to the moon and aim for Mars, NASA is searching for partnerships that will lead to efficient launches to Earth orbit and beyond, and sustainable lunar and Martian bases, with private industry assuming a greater role.
In a state Capitol ceremony that attracted top Hawaii space researchers, legislators and other local officials, Lingle signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA Ames Research Center, based south of San Francisco, to increase the flow of ideas between the lab and Hawaii scientists, policymakers and entrepreneurs.
"Over the next decade, NASA intends to spend $160 billion for space exploration, and Hawaii has a role to play in those programs," said Lingle. "It will be a boost to our economy, to our science and technology sectors."
The possibilities include launching satellites from Hawaii -- a notion once rejected by residents near South Point on the Big Island -- and even, Lingle said, "space tourism flights which might take off from Hawaii."
Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames, urged schools to join the bandwagon.
"We want to incite and excite the next generation of young people," Worden said. "In fact, I think it's quite possible that the first man or woman to walk on Mars is a young student in one of your schools here today."
NASA-Hawaii deal is a first
The state's location and high-tech firms help suit it for space work, officials say
Hawaii has sharp eyes on the skies, but parts of the state look like the moon.
It has a burgeoning high-tech sector and a supportive state government.
Its geography makes it an ideal orbital launch site and places it at the doorstep of emerging space powers in Asia.
Those were among the reasons cited yesterday as a top NASA research lab director signed an unprecedented agreement with the state to collaborate on future exploration.
"I am really convinced that Hawaii is the next Silicon Valley, and part of that reason is that space is truly international today," said Pete Worden, director of the NASA Ames Research Center, as he prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding with Gov. Linda Lingle. "Most of the new space activities going on in the world is going on in the Pacific Rim -- China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, (South) Korea. All of these nations and more are beginning to mount ambitious space programs, and part and parcel of our initiative is to cooperate and collaborate. Hawaii is the obvious meeting ground where that collaboration can bloom."
With the shuttle fleet scheduled to retire in 2010, and with the goal of a permanent settlement on the moon, NASA is searching for cooperative agreements with private industry and other governments to dramatically reduce the cost of space flight and to make space commercially profitable.
NASA Ames, based at Moffett Field, Calif., in Silicon Valley, already has cooperative agreements with a variety of high-tech companies and universities, but this is the first with a state government.
Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, called the agreement "a real milestone in our relationship with NASA" and a spur for innovation here.
"With innovation the sky is not the limit," Liu said. "We are going to go beyond that into space."
The University of Hawaii's world-class research centers in astronomy, planetary science and engineering, and the Maui Supercomputing Center, were obvious attractions for NASA, officials said, also citing the powerful telescopes on Mauna Kea and Haleakala.
Another attraction is a UH program to develop small satellites, some about the size of a soda can, designed to be launched inexpensively into orbit, perhaps ultimately from the Pacific Missile Range at Barking Sands, Kauai.
"You have been doing very exciting work in small spacecraft, and I'm coming from a new regime where small is beautiful because it's cheap," said Worden. "My center has been designated by NASA to work the small, cheap things."
Another showcase initiative is PISCES, which stands for Pacific International Center for Exploration Systems, a collaboration between UH-Hilo, the state business department and the Japan-U.S. Science, Technology and Space Applications Program. The program promotes the use of Hawaii's lunarlike terrain and volcanic soils as an international testing ground for robots and other technologies for exploring the moon and Mars.
In the near term, Worden said, he is looking for three or four "high-priority" ideas that he can present to NASA headquarters with a request for funding.