Many Coloradans will have seen blockbuster movies like "Gravity" and "Interstellar" and felt the wonder and excitement of space travel and exploration, but you may not realize that the type of innovation we see on the big screen is being designed by our neighbors right here in Colorado. We live in a state with major aerospace influence and presence that is leading the nation's return to human spaceflight.
With over 400 space-related companies supporting 170,000 high-paying jobs, Colorado employs more private sector aerospace workers per capita than any other state in the nation. We are also at the center of military space, keeping our troops safe across the world from thefour space-related military commands located in our state.
True to Colorado's strong pioneering tradition, our aerospace industry has been a leader in the nation's most notable space and defense projects since the 1950s. Colorado companies and research centers create the satellites and technology used to predict weather here on earth (and in space)! Colorado is the country's hub for geospatial and remote-sensing technologies, and our nation's GPS satellites are built and operated in Colorado. These technologies enable our firefighters and first responders to respond quickly to wildfires and rescue our neighbors stranded by floods. In addition, our state has long been at the forefront of space science and exploration, with our companies and research institutions playing a leading role in missions to other planets.
Many of us remember the awe and wonder we felt when we witnessed Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. On Dec. 4, we shared that with our children when Orion, NASA's next exploration spacecraft, underwent its first test launch. Orion was engineered by Lockheed Martin Space Systems here in Colorado, and is the first spacecraft designed to carry human explorers on deep space missions beyond the moon to asteroids, and eventually, Mars. Orion will be aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, the world's largest and most powerful launch vehicle. United Launch Alliance is headquartered in Centennial.
This is the furthest a spacecraft designed to carry humans will travel since Apollo 17 in 1972, and marks the beginning of America's return to human exploration beyond low earth orbit. During the test flight, Orion will orbit the Earth twice, reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles, and travel 15 times farther into space than the International Space Station. Orion will reach speeds of more than 20,000 miles per hour before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere: its heat shield is the largest ever built for a spacecraft.
The Orion program is the quintessential example of how we implement big ideas in Colorado — where the public and private sectors work together to carry out a long-term, innovative vision.
Last week's test flight not only marks a historic step for Colorado's space industry and the nation's space program, it also heralds the next generation of human space exploration, providing inspiration for our future scientists and engineers to develop and harness new technologies and innovations.
While we may not yet be living in the age of space travel as depicted by filmmakers, Coloradans can take great pride in knowing that thousands of men and women in our state are turning science fiction into science reality - whether it's harnessing space capabilities to improve and protect lives here on Earth, or leading the way in exploring the last frontier. The next giant leap into space begins in Colorado!
Gov. John W. Hickenlooper is the lead author here on behalf of himself and the entire Colorado congressional delegation, including Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Sen.-Elect Cory Gardner, and Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter.