Patricia Hynes serves as the Director for the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium and NASA EPSCoR, both programmes are funded by the United State Congress and administered by NASA. Dr Hynes is also the Chair of the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.

As director of NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), could you explain about EPSCoR and its place in the US space effort?

EPSCoR is meant to help faculties in the 25 states and juristrictions in the program to develop research capablility that will allow the faculty to develop relationships with NASA. Using those relationships, they write proposals important to NASA to be funded by the Administration or other federal or private companies to grow the research to enable the ecomonic capability of the either the state, the region or the nation. For instance, we funded a project with two universities and two components under the category of material sciences. The first part of the proposal involved setting up a research structure to determine structural health monitoring of air frames and eventually space structutres to perform crack detection. The study would discover where cracks would occurs and under which conditions. The second stage of crack detection part involved a “self-healing” function, using epoxies. That research, funded by EPSCoR three years ago, has already brought in approx $8 million dollars worth of funding for the researchers to develop the idea. This is a good example of how such an idea can pertain to commercial space here in New Mexico. The purpose of the New Mexico NASA EPSCoR program is to build the core competitive research strength in New Mexico. New Mexico NASA EPSCoR RID focuses on collaborative activities and relationships to develop long-term, self-sustaining, nationally-competitive capabilities in space and aerospace-related research. These capabilities, contribute to New Mexico’s economic viability and expand the nation's base for aerospace research and development.

In January 2009, Spaceport America, received its vertical launch license from the FAA. How important is the commercial space sector?

In my view, the United States in terms of the global economy, has lost its competitive capability because of ITAR. We have turned over a lot of the business in emerging countries to others. While we all need, as a community, to address security needs, we must enable the competitive nature of this industry by not hamstringing ourselves. We have the potential to create a new space economy with the increased access to space which is on the horizon - Virgin Galactic will start operations within the next three to five years, sending people into space at a higher rate than ever. The FAA has released a call for proposals for universities to submit their plan for running a Center of Excellence that would enable the US to address multiple research needs - policy, law, medicine, launch vehicles, payloads, safety, human spaceflight - applicable also to commercial space. The integration of air and space traffic management is very important here - not interrupting air traffic with private launches. Spaceports may be dedicated spaceports - we have research requirements suggesting that spaceports operate very like airports. But we could also existing airports and adapt them to become combined air- and spaceports. This is the first time a federal agency in the United States has acknowledged the commercial space transportation industry as it really is - a transportation industry. And turning to Spaceport America itself, it has been working with a number of aerospace firms, including Virgin Galactic, Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc./Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties.

Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic recently commented on the recent law in New Mexico legislating the space tourism business. Could you tell us about the law?

The New Mexico law provides protection from lawsuit for the SpacePort and launch operators. The passenger signs an informed consent agreement that indicates that they understand this is a dangerous activity. They agree to hold the state and launch operator harmless in an accident that results in their death.

Do you think that the future of US human spaceflight is commercial?

The commercial space tourism business will be a catalyzing component for a while. It will be a catalyst to enable us to do other things. The research potential we have by gaining more frequent access to a part of the atmosphere vital to such research a global warming for instance, will be a by-product of the space tourism business as it is structured right now. The Center of Excellence could help us to characterise to potential impact of human spaceflight by enabling us to gather data by consent from the tourists. Virgin Galactic themselves are concentrating only upon the tourism business and so the tourists themselves would be our contacts. Thus any research would be a later by-product. Other places such as Sweden and Dubai may follow into this area.

You have headed the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC) since 1998. Has it been important in shaping the future economy of the state of New Mexico? Can the model be useful elsewhere in the United States and indeed in the rest of the world?

That’s a great question and I believe the answer is yes to both parts. The first part - have we been a benefit to the state of New Mexico? Measured by the number of scholarships and research fellowships that we do - and not limiting ourselves to commercial space in Space Grant - we participate in education, astronomy, geophysics and museums. We have a large group of people in New Mexico and while we can only fund projects within the state, the Space Grant sends students all over the United States and indeed the world. The effect is thus truly international. We pay for their travel over the summer and they have life-changing experiences. I have students at KSC, at JPL, learning about Mars rovers and astronaut training for example. These students’ data goes into additional research projects and our students get great jobs and sometimes start their own companies. Can this model be used throughout the world? Yes. It is based on the Land Grant model established during the Lincoln Presidency. This model was meant to provide free public higher education throughout the US states with the resulting research helping a state to grow its economy. New Mexico, with its Spaceport, is pretty unique, building on the scientific heritage of Los Alamos and Whitesands which are in the state. The visionary idea for a spaceport dates back to Kennedy’s time when the Governer wrote to the President suggesting the establishment of a spaceport. The potential for economic benefits to accrue to New Mexico from Spaceport America will depend on whether our faculty and students are given opportunities to learn to compete in the emerging space industry. NMSGC helps prepare the workforce for the challenges facing New Mexico and the nation as the space business moves forward. Support of science and engineering programs ensures not only workforce development, but also the technological and scientific advances that underpin economic development within the state and the nation. And this applies worldwide.