I want to make sure you see this great editorial in the Daily Press about the "Sputnik moment" our nation faces in the area of hypersonics. I'm pleased that the Daily Press is bringing this issue the public attention it deserves, and excited about the role that NASA Langley and Hampton Roads could play in the development of this game-changing technology. You can read the full editorial here or below.
Yours in Service,
May 16, 2016
Just last month, the Chinese media announced a successful flight test of that country's new "hypersonic glider."
Don't let that name fool you.
This so-called "glider" is an ultimate flying machine, capable of moving through the air at speeds of between Mach 5 and Mach 10 — five to 10 times the speed of sound. The technology is expected to be used in Chinese missile systems of the future.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that if the Chinese can make that technology viable, it would leave little time for American air and missile defense systems to respond to an attack.
Meanwhile, Rep. Forbes points out that Russia, too, also is moving along with hypersonic technology development. It's working with India on a short-range supersonic cruise missile that can carry nuclear warheads.
The congressman calls this time "a Sputnik moment" for the United States.
That was a reference to the time in the 1950s that the U.S. realized the Soviet Union was far ahead of us in space technology — courtesy of its successfully sending its Sputnik satellites into orbit. That set off a massive American investment in the space program over the next decade, culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon in 1969.
Of the more recent Chinese and Russian advances, Rep. Forbes said: "This should be a similar kind of Sputnik moment for us to realize we have got to reach not only existing levels of hypersonic (technology) — but we have to go to new horizons."
Quite simply, keeping pace with our potential adversaries on something as fundamental as how fast a missile can move is crucial to America's national defense. It's crucial to our nation. So it's worth our time and attention — and federal cash.
So let this new race begin.
The military — specifically the Air Force — will take the lead on developing hypersonic technology, but NASA Langley Research Center also will play a key role, as will other NASA centers and outside contractors such as Boeing and Pratt & Whitney.
This won't be a small-dollar operation, of course. It hasn't yet been spelled out how much taxpayer money it will cost, but given how expensive research and development can be these days, the effort will clearly run well into the billions of dollars.
That's why both the Air Force and NASA headquarters must ensure that this taxpayer money is spent judiciously. This can't become another government sinkhole. These agencies must make sure the research is wisely focused on our military's actual needs and that our researchers and defense contractors work in a cost-efficient fashion.
But we also note that investment into such research programs over the years has often paid off many times over through an array of technological advances.
NASA research, for example, has helped bring us everything from better smoke detectors in our homes to more advanced satellites in our skies.
It's helped us more reliably predict weather patterns. It's helped make our planes and even our roadways safer. Airports and roads, for example, now have NASA-spurred safety grooving that helps prevent accidents by increasing friction between wheels and the concrete.
We also have better television satellite signals, portable X-ray machines, programmable pacemakers, breast cancer detection, GPS navigation systems, voice-controlled wheelchairs and memory mattress foam — all thanks at least in part to basic NASA research.
Though hypersonic technology's first application will be for military use, NASA says the effort is likely to eventually also boost space capabilities in such areas as propulsion systems, re-usable vehicles, and high-temperature materials.
In recent months, the congressman has helped created a new Bipartisan Congressional NASA Caucus, a group of lawmakers who will work together to champion the agency — and push for more money. That would be along the lines of the "Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus," lawmakers that advocate for more money for shipbuilding.
It's a wonder that a NASA caucus didn't exist already, given the agency's influence in Florida, Texas, Virginia and Maryland, and suppliers across many states. But such cooperation could be crucial as new money-hungry initiatives proceed.
We can't predict now — any more than we could in the 1960s — where all the research into hypersonic technology will lead. But we believe it will lead to new advances, and that our country will be a better place to live for having made these investments.
Read the full editorial here.
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