Ellington Airport Could Become a Commercial Spaceport (Could a Moon Vacation Be in the Cards?)

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Houston has some great airports, but now the City of Houston and the Houston Airport System are working to see about getting one airport a little something extra as a licensed spaceport.

Back in the days of the space race, our rockets were heading for the moon, and it all happened so fast that it seemed likely we'd all be wearing space helmets and eating Moon Flakes cereal on our colony in outer space by 2001 at the latest, minus that creepy computer.

Of course, it didn't happen like that. Right now NASA astronauts are hitching rides with the Russians into outer space, and since they won't be making any trips to the moon in the foreseeable future, taking a family jaunt to the moon seems pretty far off.

However, the folks with the City of Houston and HAS are optimistic about our prospects. Not so optimistic that they're going to pull a Walt Disney and build an entire Tomorrowland, but they are looking to get licensed to construct a spaceport.

Last month, Houston City Council members "voiced their support" for the HAS effort to obtain a license for Ellington Airport -- the small, runty cousin of George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby -- to build a spaceport. The council also approved a contract with Reynolds, Smith and Reynolds Inc. for $718,900 to conduct a study on how to obtain a commercial spaceport license. The first year of the three-year contract will be used for getting the license, and then the company will conduct environmental-impact studies to figure out what a spaceport will mean to the people who live immediately around it, according to the Houston Business Journal.

And this whole thing could have one fast turnaround. The HAS presentation to the city council claimed they'd have space shuttles flying out of Ellington by 2014 if the approval goes swimmingly, the HBJ reports.

Partly, this is a bid to keep Houston relevant in the world of space travel. In May, Charles Bolden, the head of NASA since 2009, spoke at the Johnson Space Center, where he warned that the next round of sequestration budget cuts could lead to layoffs at the JSC.

This isn't exactly shocking since we all remember that time in the not-so-recent past when the powers that be didn't send a shuttle to Houston, the hub of the program. But it's still a move no one around here wants to see made. Obviously, the Washington D.C. honchos making these decisions just don't realize how awesome we are at loving and supporting space, so we need to convince them. Hence, the spaceport. (Maybe. It could happen that way.)

"'Houston' was the first word ever spoken from the surface of the moon, so our city already enjoys a unique place in aerospace history," Houston Mayor Annise Parker stated in a release. "But we need to take the steps necessary to ensure that Houston remains at the forefront of this exciting industry throughout the 21st century, and this initiative at Ellington Airport goes a long way in accomplishing that goal."

Right now the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation has only issued eight licenses for spaceports in the United States. If Houston gets approved and licensed now, the city will be all set when -- or, let's face it, if -- the 21st-century world imagined back in the the day actually becomes a reality.

Ellington may not seem like the obvious choice at first gander, but the relatively small airport already serves NASA and the U.S. Military, so adding on a spaceport actually makes a certain amount of sense.

The spaceport would also be located near all the brainy types who live around NASA. Hobby is arguably in the neighborhood, too, but while it has that great train, Ellington is supposed to be "well-positioned geographically" for the kinds of launches they'll be undertaking, Houston Aviation Director Marco Diaz stated.

The spaceport would be the site of reusable launch vehicles executing horizontal takeoffs used by aircraft instead of the vertical ones we've seen used to launch shuttles so often. The spaceport would also be a place to put together space shuttles, train astronauts and launch satellites, which would be pretty cool.

No word yet on which of the handful of commercial spaceflight companies in existence would be heading up this project, if it ever gets off the ground (so to speak), or how much it's going to cost. We didn't get a shuttle, but maybe we'll have a spaceport instead. And then there'll be moon vacations and kids crunching moon flakes on TV. And just like that, we'll be Tomorrowland incarnate. Could be cool.

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