South Georgia needs space industry

I grew up in Tifton and Brunswick and have family in Waycross, Moultrie, and Savannah. I drive through that part of the state and see small towns dying. The proposed spaceport in Camden County is the best opportunity to help South Georgia’s economy. We should do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

When NASA was looking for a location to launch rockets in the early 1960s, a group of Georgia businessmen promoted southeast Georgia as a potential site. Their proposal ran a close second to sites in Florida. After a great deal of discussion, visits and evaluation, NASA decided to locate its facility at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Prior to that selection, eastern central Florida was very empty with only 17,000 people. Since then, the Kennedy Space Center has grown to become the world’s leading space launch facility, a tourist attraction that helped spur the population’s growth to 700,000. Imagine if NASA had chosen southeast Georgia instead.

Had that decision been made, Georgia would be the nation’s leading space launch location. Our coast would have received legions of tourists. The high-paying, high-tech jobs created by the space industry would be in this state.

Very seldom in life do you get a second chance, but now Georgia is getting a do-over. Several years ago, NASA decided to push launches to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) into the commercial arena. NASA will still do research into deep space and government-related launches, but LEO activities will be done by commercial companies.

These companies need a location for commercial launches. Government launch sites like Kennedy give priority to government needs, and commercial lift-offs take a back seat. If commercial launch is to move into the mainstream, private operators need a site that puts the priority on commercial needs.

Georgia has what some have called the perfect location. The Camden County site meets every requirement the commercial launch industry needs. Flights happen over the ocean; weather permits year-round operations; population is limited, and cities and infrastructure are close enough to be accessible.

An industry insider recently told a state representative, “In real estate, it’s location, location, location. You have the best location in the country for a commercial spaceport. If you develop it right, you will have the best commercial spaceport in the country, possibly the world. If you don’t, it will be the biggest mistake in 10 generations.”

Who would have thought in 1960 that Cape Canaveral would become what it is today? Georgia missed out on that opportunity 50 years ago. Texas and Florida see this opportunity and are aggressively going after it with resources, including cash incentives. Spaceport Georgia is being lead by a small county with few resources. Georgia has been given a second chance for something very special. Decisions are being made now by companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace.

For the sake of cities like Jesup, Woodbine and Blackshear, Gov. Nathan Deal and the state economic development office should do everything possible to attract these companies. The future of South Georgia depends on it.

Michael Mealling is president of the Georgia Space Society.

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