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Houston to celebrate Apollo success, but must be bold to secure future role in space
By Bob Mitchell
Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Very few who watched Apollo 11 land on the moon and Neil Armstrong take “a giant leap for mankind” in July 1969 would have been able to successfully predict what the U.S. space program would look like over the next 10 years, much less the decades since that historic moment.

Throughout the upcoming year, we will have an opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and several other space milestones, from Apollo 8 (December 1968) through Apollo 12 (November 1969).

As Houston looks forward to celebrating those historic moments in human space exploration, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and a number of other Houston area organizations and institutions are already planning a year-long series of events and programs to recognize Apollo 11 and the city’s many and varied connections to the U.S. space program.

In the Bay Area Houston region, the home of many current and former NASA astronauts and “rocket scientists,” both the NASA Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston are working on events to honor the thousands of NASA employees and contractors involved in America’s space program.

By this time next year, the historic Mission Control Center at NASA JSC will have completed a comprehensive preservation program that will give visitors the opportunity to see first-hand what the world saw only on television from Gemini 4 through the end of the lunar program with Apollo 17 in 1972.

While it is appropriate to take the time to celebrate our area’s past successes and contributions to helping NASA and the United States achieve its goals in space, our area’s future role in the U.S. space program is facing a number of challenges.

Today, other regions – and other NASA centers – are competing for programs and projects and the resulting NASA funds and jobs that in the past would have been managed at the Johnson Space Center.

If this area is to continue to be the lead center for human space flight, Houston and the Bay Area will need to marshal the same level of community support from business, academic, and political leaders that was required to attract NASA to Houston in the first place.

When it comes to economic development, one thing is certain – we are all in this together. It takes more than an individual or a single organization to build a community and make sure that all of the necessary ingredients are in place to make it prosper.

Fortunately, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has many partners throughout industry, government, and academia who collaborate with us to bring new space-related companies and jobs to the region, assist those firms, as well as companies in other industries that expand here. We also partner with our 13 member cities, Harris and Galveston counties, the Port Houston, and the Houston Airport System.

BAHEP’s partnerships also include the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), the Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium (BayTech), NASA Johnson Space Center, the Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership (BayTran), and regional chambers of commerce. We each have a vital role to play in keeping Houston strong and moving forward.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy shared his vision for the Houston area during a speech at Rice University one year after the Bay Area was selected to be the home of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center:

“Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community.”

Through the years we have made that vision a reality. We are fortunate to have the assets, infrastructure, and strong regional support that helped us attract NASA to our area more than 50 years ago. However, if we are to compete for future space projects and programs, we cannot rely on our past successes alone.

Just as President John F. Kennedy challenged the country in the early 1960s, so, too, “we must be bold” in attracting new companies and new technology if we are to secure this area’s future in space.

Bob Mitchell is president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.




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