General: Aerospace industry Colorado’s best-kept secret

DENVER – U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten issued a call to action to Colorado aerospace leaders to get the word out about the important role the industry plays in the state, both in the military and private sectors.

In fact, getting the word out and inspiring youth was a big theme of the morning at the Colorado Space Business Roundtable’s 11th annual Colorado Space Roundup at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Wednesday.

Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, pointed out that the largest private sector employer in the state is Lockheed Martin with 10,000 employees. The Air Force itself employs 31,000 combined at Shcriever, Peterson and Buckley Air Force bases, many of whom work on space operations.

The industry employs nearly 170,000 people in all in the state, third most in the nation behind California and Florida.

“It’s invisible to a lot of people all the amazing things (industry) does in space in Colorado,” Hyten said.

The most intriguing thing about the Orion test flight of the capsule that is expected to someday carry people to Mars is not that the flight was successful. The mission to orbit the Earth twice and successfully splash back down, though complicated, was one America had carried out decades ago.

The best part, Hyten said, was the excitement the flight and capsule – which had deep Colorado roots – generated, placing the U.S. space program back on the front pages of newspapers, in everyday conversations in the general public, and especially in the minds of children. The type of buzz generated, multiple speakers noted Wednesday, hadn’t been seen in this country since the space shuttle program ended.

“If you can get somebody excited about space science and math right from the beginning, it’s amazing what can happen,” Hyten said.

Generating buzz about space, Hyten said, is not only important for the awe-inspiring thoughts of furthering humanity and someday placing people on other planets, but also for the everyday technology that permeates our lives and for national security.

It’s conceivable, he said, that U.S. enemies could catch up to America’s technology in space and launch war from space someday. Such a sobering possibility is one he hopes never comes to fruition, but he said it’s important for the United States to stay at the forefront of the technology curve so that the country could prevent or win such a conflict and do so without destroying the planet.

“We need help from industry,” Hyten said. “We have to have innovative ideas to do it. … We need young people to work on those problems along with all the other problems we have to (work on).”