Andy Thomas Advises Prime Minister On Aussie Space Industry

Australia has much to learn if it is to capture a bigger share of growing billion dollar global space industry.

Adelaide astronaut Andy Thomas has been asked by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to advise him on setting up an Australian space ­industry, which the former NASA leader says can help forge a lucrative new economic direction for the nation.

The pair met in Adelaide in March and Dr Thomas, at Mr Turnbull’s request, later prepared him a four-page brief. Dr Thomas’s proposal, which he has supplied to The Advertiser, says Australia can tap into a $455 billion worldwide market, supporting innovation, defence, telecommunications, the environment and hi-tech jobs.

Adelaide astronaut Andy Thomas has been asked by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to advise him on setting up an Australian space ­industry.

Adelaide astronaut Andy Thomas

The Adelaide University-educated veteran of four space flights, now retired in Texas , told The Advertiser the space industry was rapidly changing. Small satellites are being developed cheaply and in large numbers, overtaking once large and costly operations.

“Things like these are major paradigm changes in the space sector and I suggested it was time for Australia to decide if it wants to be involved,” said Dr Thomas, a former deputy director of NASA’s astronaut office.

“To that end, I proposed to him that a small but high-level group of specialists be convened to address the question of Australia’s involvement in the emerging space sector and, in particular, to define where Australia should be in the space sector 10 years from now.”

The meeting was organised by state Liberal leader Steven Marshall, who says SA is ideally positioned to capitalise and ­create hi-tech jobs of the future. Mr Marshall said SA had significant infrastructure that supported the $1.2 billion to $2 billion spent annually in Australia in the space industry.

“Our aim should be to capture the majority of space spending and jobs for South Australia and make our state the undisputed champion of this emerging industry,” he said. A spokesman for Mr Turnbull said Dr Thomas’s proposal would be considered under a review of the Space Activities Act.  Source: Adelaide Advertiser

Some Pertinent Facts

“If you were to list the countries in the world that should have a space agency, Australia would come in at number one,” Dempster says. “We’re responsible for about one-eighth of the world’s surface, in terms of search and rescue, weather monitoring and forecasting, et cetera.

And, yet, we have one of the lowest population densities in the world. We have a massive amount of ­surface to look after and there’s nobody in it. It makes no sense to monitor it in any other way than from space. We should be building the assets to provide what information we need but at the moment we ask others, ‘Oh, what do you have left over when you’re finished using your satellite?’ We take data that other people let us have. It’s no way to operate.

“Australia is the largest economy in the world not to have a space agency. In the OECD, New Zealand and Iceland are the only other countries that don’t have a space agency. Kazakhstan is launching satellites; Nigeria, Tunisia are too. Australia is not. And, really, there’s no excuse.”

Oh…That Space-flight Feeling

Most of all he remembers the countdown because the countdown meant he wasn’t dreaming. It was real. Andy Thomas, from Adelaide, Australia, was launching into space.

He lay back in his seat inside the space shuttle Endeavour and spoke clearly and directly to himself: “This is going to be, without doubt, the most amazing experience of your life.”

At six seconds, Endeavour’s main engines fired up and the shuttle lurched against its restraints, desperate for flight.

He was warm inside his pressure suit, at peace despite the fact he was strapped to a time bomb, a cluster of rocket engines designed to burn six tonnes of fuel per second, developing 3300 tonnes of thrust.

He heard mission control send a command to fire the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters and his world was bathed in light, a heavenly flash of brilliant yellow flame as he was sucked back into his seat. Acceleration. Vibration.

His teeth and bones rattled and he felt like he was driving across the corrugated dirt roads of rural South Australia in a vehicle with no tyres.

He shakily raised a hand-held mirror and caught the miracle of science and engineering unfolding beyond the shuttle windows behind him. Through the side windows he watched the launch tower disappear and the last piece of earthly land he saw was the beachline buffering Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre as he punched through cloud layers, climbing, climbing, climbing.

Blue faded to dark blue faded to black and his heart raced at the sight of a foreign light beyond the realms of human colour and thinking. It was an incandescent plasma shrouding the shuttle, sparklets of electricity born from its hyper-sonic velocity. He was truly present in this moment and he said to himself, “There is no one on Planet Earth doing anything more extraordinary than what I am doing now.”

“The views!” he marvels. “The engine shuts down at eight-and-a-half minutes and you feel a big clunk, which is the separating of the external tank, and you’re in zero gravity travelling at 28,000km/h and any loose objects in the cabin float up around you. And it’s time to unstrap and the first thing any first-time flyer wants to do is to go to the window and take a look outside.”

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