‘Jeff Bezos has a vision for the future’ - Commercial Space Technologies president George Nield tells ARMENPRESS on space tourism
YEREVAN, OCTOBER 4, ARMENPRESS. Space tourism is gaining momentum with the rapid development of private space exploration companies.
In the past few years, American companies SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic enabled dozens of civilians to travel into orbit and officially receive the title of “astronaut”.
Once deemed as highly unrealistic, experts now say that space travel will soon be as accessible as commercial air travel.
However, the prices of the space travel ticket range somewhere from several hundred thousand up to tens of millions of dollars.
George Nield, the president and founder of Commercial Space Technologies, a US-company that aims to promote and facilitate commercial space activities, made his dream come true in March of 2022 when he flew aboard the suborbital space tourism rocket New Shepard developed by Jeff Bezos' company, Blue Origin.
Nield, the former associate administrator for the United States Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation, visited Armenia in September 2022 to participate in the STARMUS VI Festival.
In an exclusive interview with ARMENPRESS, Nield spoke about the future of private space companies and commercial space travel.
ARMENPRESS: In March of 2022 you flew to space as a private astronaut aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. Do you think that commercial space programs have a future?
George Nield: I think we’re in the middle of a very significant transformation in how we operate in Space. It used to be that almost everything that happened in Space was done by governments. Going forward that is no longer going to be the case because private companies are now developing the capabilities to take people and satellites into Space. And we’re seeing a lot of benefits from that. It’s very interesting to compare what we’ve been doing with governments and what private industry is able to do in general and especially in the United States, I think we are learning that companies can do things less expensively, including more new technologies and innovation. They’re willing to take some risks in order to have future gains. They have the opportunity to think about new markets, new customers, new products. That’s not the government’s job but that’s part of what business is and the companies have access to new sources of funding and investments instead of just relying on the taxpayers’ dollars from the government. So in all of these ways I think the private industry, the commercial space aspect is going to continue to grow over time and become more and more important in the future.
ARMENPRESS: Today the United States is the leading country in terms of commercial flights. In your opinion what countries can follow the US in this race?
George Nield: I think it’s interesting to observe that – yes, the Space is hard and in the past has been very expensive but now as Space is changing there’s more and more opportunities for other countries to become involved. There’s no longer any need to build a giant launch pad complex like at Kennedy Space Center, to have a space Shuttle or a large rocket in order to get to Space. Because rockets are becoming smaller, becoming reusable so they can take off, do their mission, come back, then be reused and there’re also more opportunities for other countries to be involved in building satellites and analyzing the data that we get back from Space. So, there’re many ways to become involved in Space without building your own rockets and launching them in your own country.
ARMENPRESS: Some people argue that we should not spend money on Space explorations and commercial space transportation and we should better focus on the problems on Earth. What is your opinion on this matter?
George Nield: I think we need to do both. By trying these hard things to learn about our planet, our Solar system, the Universe, we can take lessons that will help us to live better lives on Earth. The other part of that question, also it’s that, again in the past it’s been the governments doing the programs and so they had to use the people’s money to have those programs. Now if you don’t want to go to Space, you don’t have to buy a ticket. It’s only those people who are willing and interested to go, that are paying for these adventures.
ARMENPRESS: How was flying on Blue Origin and becoming an astronaut?
George Nield: It was fantastic. It’s very hard to describe because it was just a wonderful experience. The rockets and capsules that we flew on are completely autonomous which mean there was no pilot on board, there was no pilot on the ground flying it. The computers were doing all the work. So all we had to do was just sit back and enjoy the experience. When we lifted off, there was noise and you pushed back into your seats, a lot of excitement there, and then when the engines cut off, you get to unbuckle your harness and experience weightlessness and do somersault and float around. And it's a wonderful new experience of freedom and joy. But for me the high point of the flight by far, was the view. We had very large windows and to look out and see the curvature of the Earth and this bright blue line that is the atmosphere that you were above, and then above that looking at the sky it’s not blue, it is black, the black as black you can imagine. And it was the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen in my entire life. I tear up…. just telling people about it because it was so amazing.
ARMENPRESS: What do you consider the greatest scientific achievement of the 21st century?
George Nield: That’s hard to know but I am certainly excited to see the growth of commercial space because what it is going to enable us to do for humanity and our future. The person who founded the Blue Origin, the company that I flew with, Jeff Bezos, has a vision for the future. And that is – millions of people living and working in Space for the benefit of Earth. That will take many years to achieve that, but the program that I flew on, the New Shepard program, was designed to be the first small step for that. Let’s first learn how to safely and relatively inexpensively take people up to the edge of Space and back down and get really good at that and then try to do more ambitious things in the future and maybe someday there will be millions of people who live and work off the planet for the benefit of Earth.
ARMENPRESS: How should we ignite love for space and science among youth?
George Nield: My experience has been young people and students are naturally interested in Space and exploration and adventure. So almost by their very nature they’re interested in possibilities. I know I was certainly as a child that had been dreaming about it, studying math and science and trying to gain helpful experiences. During my trip to Armenia this week I had the chance to talk to students at the physical and mathematical school here in Yerevan. The room was filled with young people who were listening to my talk and watching the pictures that I was sharing. They were getting so excited about their future and the opportunity to perhaps someday have the same experience themselves. That is motivating to me and it’s exciting to see that other people can have the same excitement.
Interview by Araks Kasyan
Photos by Hayk Badalyan