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The Promise of Space Potential for the Future
As Delivered by Gen. Howell M. Estes III, commander, U.S. Space Command, U.S. Space Foundation's 1997 National Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colo., , Thursday, April 03, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 20-- The Promise of Space Potential for the Future America's investment in space is rapidly growing and soon will be of such magnitude that it will be considered a vital interest -- on par with how oil is valued today.


Volume 12, Number 20

The Promise of Space Potential for the Future

Prepared remarks by Gen. Howell M. Estes III, commander, U.S. Space Command, to the U.S. Space Foundation's 1997 National Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colo., April 3, 1997.

It's great to be with you this morning. ... I feel a particular sense of urgency in addressing this symposium this morning, because we all share a common objective -- "The Promise of Space" -- which is a term we've heard many times because it is the theme of this symposium.

Those four simple, oft-used words conjure up as many different preconceived ideas, dreams, questions, problems and opportunities as there are people in this world to ponder such words. Unfortunately, the one word -- "promise"-- leads us all to focus on the future, because the word itself implies unfulfilled needs or requirements -- something to be satisfied sometime in the future.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'd say the future is now, and now is the time for us get on with it.

In the words of the famous novelist Victor Hugo, "The future has several names. For the weak, it is the impossible. For the fainthearted, it is the unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is ideal."

What country on Earth is more ideally suited and intellectually prepared than America to move forward into the future -- to break with the past in favor of the great promise space holds for all of us?

"The Promise of Space" can tempt us to conclude that nothing of serious consequence has happened in our efforts in space -- that the promise of space is yet to be fulfilled. Of course, we, here, know this conclusion to be only partially right -- we are already fulfilling the promise of space; however there's still a lot to be done. But what of our fellow countrymen on whose discretion and innovation we rely for funding and support to allow us to be part of a revolution that has the potential to underwrite the economic well being of this great nation of ours?

Today, more than ever, it is important that all Americans understand our investment in space is rapidly growing and soon will be of such magnitude that it will be considered a vital interest -- on a par with how we value oil today. And that the understanding of what space means to us as a nation and the support of all Americans are both critical for making the hard decisions required to realize the full potential of space in the years ahead.

As so insightfully put by the great American novelist John Gardner, "Winning individuals systematically pursue the development of their potential ... it is not left to chance."

In keeping with the theme of this symposium, it is clear that we must ask ourselves, "What promise, what potential has space yet to fulfill in the indeterminate future?"

Put more simply, what is our long-range plan for space -- military, civil, commercial, international? What systematic analyses, what processes do we implement today to begin our endless dialogue between the potentialities of space and the claims of real life? And once identified, how do we convince our fellow citizens to contribute their treasure, their time and their energy toward making the plan a reality?

I am, of course, asking these questions rhetorically in an effort to raise the vast intellectual, multifaceted and physical expanse of the journey on which our country, the world and mankind are now embarked. According to Donald G. Mitchell, "For the future is a great land; a man cannot go around it in a day; he cannot measure it with a bound; he cannot bind its harvests into a single sheaf. It is wider than vision and has no end." So the challenge is immense, but the rewards of realizing the promise of space are worth all the failures, the frustrations and seemingly slow progress.

Now while it might seem appropriate that I should be more concerned with military space, I must tell you that it is not the future of military space that is critical to the United States -- it is the continued commercial development of space that will provide continued strength critical for our great country in the decades ahead. Military space, while important, will follow.

Commercial space, as I said earlier, will become an economic center of gravity, in my opinion, in the future and as such will be a great source of strength for the United States and other nations in the world. As such, this strength will also become a weakness, a vulnerability. And it's here that the U.S. military will play an important role, for we will be expected to protect this new source of economic strength.

Therefore, I want to take a few moments this morning to tell you what we are doing to get ready for what I believe will be one of the most challenging times for the armed forces of the United States.

To start with, the military needs to develop a long-range plan for space at the national, Department of Defense and service levels. This plan must be in concert with every service and government agency and in total cooperation with the commercial space sector.

There have been many studies -- Space Cast 2025, New Vistas, Air Force Long-Range Planning -- all making valid and necessary attempts "to pierce the curtain of the future." But none of these studies are worth the paper they are written on or the magnetic disks they occupy if they do not result in some concrete, tangible steps we can take today, now, to get us on the road to the future five years, 20 years, 50 years hence.

Secretary [of the Air Force Sheila E.] Widnall put it quite precisely yesterday when she said, "Space is now at the center of our capabilities, at the center of our future plans, at the center of the way the Air Force -- and I would say our armed forces -- are reshaping themselves for the decades to come."

The space community's growing "pride of place"' is clearly the result of the recognition of the importance space capabilities delivered daily to the joint warfighter in the United States and space's limitless potential to deliver even more impressive capabilities tomorrow.

These future capabilities cannot be delivered without a plan to get there. For in the absence of a vision and a finite plan there is no focus. But we must keep in mind that plans are only guides, and achieving visions is less a matter of content than process. The process is important, the vision is important, but how we get to it is a matter of process.

By beginning with our short-range plans, we can extrapolate a little into the future if we want to pursue an evolutionary road to space. Or we can leap into the future and ask ourselves why not now -- why not take a revolutionary road to space?

Both the New Vistas and Space Cast 2025 studies provided us with some revolutionary guidelines in terms of science and technology, the investment in which is not only important, but essential. Science and technology dollars must be made available to deliver the capabilities we need in space tomorrow.

Again quoting Secretary Widnall, "You find that all issues we are working now intersect at our space-based capabilities, and most important among these is support for [Army] Gen. [John M.] Shalikashvili's [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Joint Vision 2010." Joint Vision 2010 cannot be implemented without the capabilities space forces bring to the table, and it is the science and technology dollars that will enable us to deliver these space capabilities in the future.

Now most of you know I am not an expert in all the facets of space science and technology -- not by a long shot -- but it is clear to me that there are at least three key areas where investment is vital.

First, we need robust, reliable and affordable access to space -- not a theme you're not familiar with. This has been a cornerstone of our S&T [space and technology] investment for a least a decade, and it must continue to be so. We must continue to drive the cost of going to space down if we are to reach our vision, if we are to reach and fulfill our plan.

The military investment in this area currently centers on an effort, as you all know, to build an evolved expendable launch vehicle. The civil investment centers on NASA's Reusable Launch Vehicle. The commercial investment is not centered in any particular area, but runs the gamut of light launch vehicles to heavy lift vehicles, and from fixed to mobile launch sites. I applaud and encourage all of these efforts -- all of them. For it is the competition between reusable and expendable -- fixed vs. mobile -- that will help reduce the cost of access to space. If we don't get this right, the "Promise of Space" will not be fulfilled for a long, long time to come.

Second, we need to develop a capability to protect our huge investment in space from the rapidly developing threats, both manmade and natural. Today, as most of you know, there are over 500 satellites operating in space, over 220 of which belong to the United States. For us, this represents over a [$]100 billion investment. Tomorrow, in the next decade, U.S. News and World Report speculates that another 1,800 satellites will be added. By the year 2000 alone, another [$]150 billion investment could be made in space.

Along with this tremendous growth comes similar growth in systems that can affect the ability of these satellites to perform their stated tasks, from hackers who will infiltrate computer networks to influence satellite commands to electronic jamming to lasers and kinetic energy weapons. There will be numerous ways to impact the satellite constellations of tomorrow. Now is the time to get ready for this threat -- we call it space control -- and it means just what it says: control space, ensure we have access to it and that those who choose to do us harm do not.

In addition, we need to get a handle on the issue of space debris. I know this is a heavily debated topic. I recently read an article by Dr. Robert Kuntz, a space pioneer with over 20 years' experience in the space industry, in which he states that "there are over 140,000 objects one centimeter or larger being monitored by the Haystack Radar tracking facility."

This is really an indictment on our current disregard of the importance of minimizing orbital debris. The irony is quite clear. We must invest already limited resources in reducing a space environment threat, largely created by man, in order to protect our primary investment in space-based capability. In my opinion, this is an almost ridiculous state of affairs that needs to be corrected soon.

We also need to understand natural hazards in space in a much more refined way. The space environment is not a friendly place, in fact it is downright hostile. The impact of meteor showers, solar max, radiation belts and cosmic rays on space assets are not fully understood today. In the future, we must expend more time, energy and resources on understanding the space environment in which we are operating and making such a tremendous economic investment.

The third area in which investment is vital is the continued pursuit of our ability to conduct surveillance of both the Earth and space from space.

In the ancient words of Sun Tzu, the Chinese warrior philosopher, and I quote, "To know yourself, and to know your enemy" is the ultimate indicator of success in battle. Never before in the history of mankind has any nation come closer to actually implementing this philosophy.

We must not shy away from our duty to make the hard decisions to invest our limited S&T dollars in this key area, which could have far-reaching implications. We migrated most of five major areas to space -- missile warning, communications, weather, intelligence and navigation. The next major area could be surveillance -- surveillance of space, surveillance of things on or just above the surface of the Earth.

Why is this so important? Because we have to see before we can go forward with the other very important tasks that we as a military must do to protect the national security interests of the United States. So surveillance is an area which I think is extremely important to us, because as I look at the unified command plan missions that I am assigned by the president and the secretary of defense, I cannot adequately carry those missions out if I can't see what's in space or for that matter, what's back on the surface of the Earth or just above the surface.

My next point is best illustrated in the history of the Peloponnesian War fought 2,400 years ago when Thucydides said: "The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding, go out to meet it."

We must go out and meet what is before us, and who [is] it who does this? It is those people in our countries who are modern-day pioneers focused on space.

As a senior space leader, I ask myself a key question nearly every day: How do I help keep the pioneering spirit alive and healthy in our great nation? My response to this question usually results in a very large laundry list of things we need to do. But there are only three I consider to be key.

First, we need to be successful in advocating for the resources our people need to do their jobs. To be successful in advocating for the necessary resources, we need to get the message out to the general public regarding the importance of what we do and how successful we've been at doing it and what doing it means to the future security, economy and well-being of our nation. We can't take for granted America's appreciation of our successes in space.

We've got to get the word out in a way folks understand. A great success story for all of us here is the Global Positioning System. This system is becoming a routine part of daily life throughout America, in fact, for many worldwide. But I'm not exactly sure the message is getting out, even yet.

During the Gulf War, a young soldier got into a debate with some of his contemporaries about the usefulness of tax dollars being spent on space hardware. He was heard to say "I don't need space, I just need this here plugger thing."

Of course, the young soldier was referring to his hand-held, precision lightweight Global Positioning System receiver -- "plugger," for short -- not knowing for a minute that the signals allowing the device to operate were being transmitted from 11,000 miles above the Earth.

In advocating for the funding and resources necessary for our space pioneering efforts, the congressmen, governors and mayors and the American citizenry must have an understanding of what it is we are talking about, what it is we do and what it means to them.

This general understanding will go a long way towards improving the success of our advocacy for a larger share of a pool of shrinking resources.

A second thing we need to do to nurture the pioneering spirit is to create an environment where our people can strive to reach their full potential -- an environment that is tolerant of risk and tolerant of mistakes.

Trial and error is still alive and well. Though computers are helping to reduce some of the trials and the impact of the some of the errors, it is still the human factor that counts the most.

If you're a pioneer, you're pushing the envelope, and pushing the envelope means making mistakes. We, as leaders, must be sensitive to this simple fact.

Now for the third thing, we have got to continue to improve our working relationships with industry. We've had a tendency in the past to work our long-range plans in isolation. We can't afford to do that anymore. We have to share information to the maximum extent practical. We've got to build trust and confidence between government and industry.

We need to start identifying where trade space is available in key mission areas that have the potential for high future payoff in space.

If we don't see where we have trade space, if we don't see where the opportunities are, if you don't know where our thoughts are, you will not pursue the technologies that will allow revolutionary instead of evolutionary improvements. We need to work these plans for the future together, government and industry, if we're going to be successful in recognizing and grasping the opportunities and challenges before us.

I have to say we've made some very positive changes with how we relate to industry in government, and I am really behind seeing these changes and our relationships with industry evolve further. And I know that's been a subject for discussion at this symposium.

Well, that really completes what I have to say, but I wanted to make clear where I'm coming from. We share a common objective, a common dream for the future, and it lives in space as surely as it lives inside each of us who strives to realize the full "Promise of Space."

There is much work to be done and many hard decisions to be made in the coming days and years in the United States, but I take comfort and pride in knowing that there is no other nation on Earth capable of embarking on a journey as momentous as the one we are embarked to achieve the fullest "Promise of Space."

I look forward to working with all in making our dreams and our vision of space a reality.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at 8