Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ground Control to Major Tom

By on May 20, 2016

For those of us raised on Tang, the Gatorade of astronauts, space exploration is the stuff of legend. It has inspired classic books turned into films—“The Right Stuff,” and rock classics such as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Can space exploration ignite Puerto Rico’s economy? A handful of people believe so.

Sylvia R. DeKeizer, CEO of SpaceInnova, who along with Arnaldo Soto, past president & chairman emeritus of the P.R. Construction & Infrastructure Cluster, and José Molina, co-founder of Spaceport P.R., are leading a mission to make Puerto Rico a prime jurisdiction for launches into near space because the island has the Right Stuff.

For one, it has “stable weather, plenty of skilled and resourceful technicians and a world-class manufacturing community with ample knowledge of federal laws, regulations and cleanroom technologies. The island is also No. 3 in the world for available scientists and engineers, according to the World Economic Forum, and has very competitive and cost-effective universities and health systems,” Soto told Caribbean Business.

To borrow from the Bowie classic, they are “checking ignition and putting helmets on”—in an initiative to turn Puerto Rico into a hub for aerospace exploration that could lead to huge job creation. The most recent dividends from the movement being led by DeKeizer, Soto and Molina is the hosting of the National Space Society’s 35th Annual International Space Development Conference 2016, which began on May 18 and runs through May 21. Titled “Space Without Borders,” the event brings together hundreds of top aerospace industry leaders, space exploration pioneers, leaders of academia, scientists and space exploration enthusiasts. Thankfully, they were not scared away by the alleged Zika virus “dramademic.” These are real scientists not prone to fanning the flames of hysteria. Gracias a Dios.

More than an opportunity to meet former astronauts, such as Buzz Aldrin—the second man to walk on the moon—the event showcases opportunities for economic development that exist in the aerospace industry. The idea is to plant the seed to combine Spaceport, which is a project for suborbital launches into space, with an ecosystem made up of maintenance, repair & overhaul facilities and aeronautical suppliers. Importantly, this is the first aerospace conference held in Puerto Rico that also includes investors who can bring money to the equation.

It is important that investors will be in the audience because it will take investment—big money—to capitalize on the huge opportunities. The global space economy grew by 9% in 2014, reaching a total of $330 billion worldwide, according to space industry officials.

In this edition’s Front-Page cover story, Robert T. “Bob” Geolas, the president & CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, told Caribbean Business that his state suffered a fiscal crisis similar to Puerto Rico’s, but managed to turn things around by developing an R&D ecosystem. He says big ideas like Spaceport take time and require a process that is not just one single event—in fact, it takes investments in education and partnerships and the drive to push forward “bold ideas.”

It will take all of us working together, pushing in the same direction—not going to beg for bailouts or be supervised by a superior sovereign. Promote the hell out of the tax incentives that it would take to get this done and create jobs in the tens of thousands.
As for Puerto Rico’s economy, back to Bowie. This is ground control to Major Tom and “Houston, we have a problem.” We are floating in a most peculiar way—a decade unhinged, to be precise—planet Earth is blue and yet there is something we can do.

Geolas put it best when he said: “You cannot become dominated by bad news. You need to plan long term.” It really isn’t rocket science—we need to promote incentives, attract investment and create jobs.

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