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Why We Need Space | Tom Horn

Having grown up studying the night sky at the Mt. Haleakala observatory in Hawaii, it is little surprise that Tom Horn pursued a career in space. Shortly after graduating from Virginia Tech, he was hired by NASA as a Flight Controller for the International Space Station. Horn describes being hired by NASA right out of college as “intimidating and exhilarating.”

“I don’t think that there are many jobs where you are put in charge of a 100 billion dollar space station as a 22 year-old kid right out of college,” he says. “The International Space Station really is the world’s space station.  It’s humbling thinking that if I was to make a mistake I could end manned spaceflight for a generation, in an instant terminating the majority of the world’s manned space programs.”  There are so many reasons that we do not want that to happen.

For one, world preservation is a key function of space programs around the world. The recent near miss of Earth by an asteroid and the meteorite that exploded over Russia are stark reminders of our fragility. “If we don’t expand into space, eventually it will kill us,” Horn says. “Whether it is 100 years from now or 1000 years from now, we know that it is a when, not an if.”

Another is our economic future. Construction of the ISS was recently completed and Horn explains that the focus can shift almost entirely to the science that the ISS was built for. And with this shift in mission, he is excited to look to the future. “The economic value of America, when Christopher Columbus discovered it, was right about zero,” he says. “Essentially you are going to see a new sphere of economic influence opened up in space.”

The value of space exploration and travel is rapidly becoming apparent and private companies are increasingly playing a significant role in space flight. Horn makes the point that as strong economic models emerge, even the most skeptical will be convinced of the inherent value in space exploration. Simply put, making money in space will result in others spending more money on space ventures. And the possibilities are endless for a generation that has grown up with space travel as a reality. “Once you can prove that you can make money, and we’re going to prove that within the next decade…beyond a shadow of a doubt, you’re going to see a huge investment in space,” Horn predicts. “You’re going to see space launches become a daily occurrence all around the world and it’s just going to dwarf anything that governments have done up to this point.”