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Thomas calls for new comprehensive Australian Space Agency at IAC address
by Philippe Cosyn
Adelaide, Australia (SPX) Sep 24, 2017

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At South Australian Press Club conference here in the S.A. capital, multiple-mission astronaut Dr Andrew "Andy" Thomas spoke of his conviction that space is good business for Australia, and should be promoted and shaped by a full-fledged space agency.

Speaking on the eve of the 68th International Astronautical Congress to take place in Adelaide, which is expected to be attended by a record number of 4,000 delegates, Thomas said Australia should invest directly in space, "not be contented with buying stuff offshore".

"We live in a hi-tech world, which is not just about smartphones but which involves our daily life, including our health system," he said. An Australian space agency would not only stimulate science and engineering education but innovation, new products, new employment, new jobs," he said.

"Science enriches the social fabric and unleases rational thought," Thomas said, which is why he was alarmed by a new discours, particularly in his now-home country the United States, of "alternative facts".

He referred to creationist curricula being promoted in US schools and the over-all mediocre educational level in science and mathematics, according to OECD data. Even in his NASA days, he said, NASA documents forbade to refer to the "big bang", evolutionary theories and the like, for fear of offending people.

"Even as I speak, in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "references to climate change are being purged", with some portraying it as a hoax. Even the incoming NASA Administrator is a climate sceptic, he said. "Science facts should be discussed on their own merit and not from an ideological perspective," he said. "Rational discourse" should prevail if we are to get out of this situation.

Speaking of initiatives to found an Australian space agency, he recalled that "fifty years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to launch a satellite - WRESAT". However, there was no follow-up to that promising event.

"If we had sustained that effort the," he said, "we would have a multi-billion dollar space business right here in Australia now."

He was hoping that the upcoming IAC was to provide an impetus to set up such an Australian national Space Agency "to decide national policy, to strategize and to build a space infrastructure."

Praising the existence of already some 50 space-related businesses in South Australia alone, he said "investments must go beyond the next election cycle" and be forward-looking.

Previously, South Australian Prime Minister Jay Weatherill announced the creation of a Space Industry Centre (SASIC), which will provide grants of $ 1 million to develop local space business. Calling on the Federal Prime Minister to establish a National Space Agency, PM Weatherill said he expected that setting up such an agency would more than double the already more than 11,500 jobs in the space field.

Adelaide-born Dr. Thomas became a US citizen in 1986 hoping to become a NASA astronaut. He was recruited by NASA in March 1992 and flew his first mission aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 1996.

A mechanical engineer by profession, he subsequently served as flight engineer on the Russian Mir station, orbiting the earth 2,250 times in 141 days. Totalling four space flights, he took part in the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2005, testing flight safety and repair techniques for the space shuttle.

A sci-fi movie buff, he is fond of saying that he flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2001, mirroring the Stanley Kubrick "2001 - a space Odyssey" - which featured a spacecraft called Discovery heading for the far reaches of the solar system to uncover the secrets of extreterrestrial life.

He is married to NASA space shuttle astronaut Shannon Walker.

Deploring the bureaucratization of some existing space agencies, including NASA, he said that if such agencies did not live up to the challenge, space will be for innovators the likes of Elon Musk, who will address the IAC next week, he said.

Northrop Grumman to buy space firm Orbital for $9.2 bn
New York (AFP) Sept 18, 2017
US defense group Northrop Grumman will buy out the rocket and missile maker Orbital ATK in a deal worth $9.2 billion, the firms said on Monday. The announcement comes around two weeks after industrial conglomerate United Technologies acquired aerospace supplier Rockwell Collins in a $30 billion deal. "Northrop Grumman will acquire Orbital ATK for approximately $7.8 billion in cash, plus ... read more

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