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Continuing to build aerospace industry is appropriate investment of state's wealth

As an Alaska state senator in the '80s and early '90s, I recall the excitement I felt when then-Rep. Tom Moyer of Fairbanks brought us stories of the state of Florida's spaceport project. Tom introduced legislation to establish a space authority in Alaska. I became a Senate co-sponsor of the legislation.

It wasn't long before his legislation passed the House and came before the Senate. Fellow senators and I worked to guide passage in there. Oh, how big our dreams and hopes were for Alaska's entry into the space program.

Space has always been a unifying place that has received tremendous bipartisan support since President John F. Kennedy set our nation's goal to have an American step on the moon. That spirit of adventure and foresight has changed into a national business in which America has become a global leader.

Our dreams for Alaska were a bit more modest, but out of the effort to become part of the nation's aerospace activities came the Alaska Aerospace Development Authority. Imagine, if you will, Alaska in a leading position to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education through our wonderful university system. This is a direct product of continuing to establish an aerospace industry in our state.

With the first successful launch from Kodiak Launch Complex in 1998, the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation placed our state into the international marketplace of space. Today, with 15 successful launches completed and yet another launch scheduled for this spring, Alaskans can be proud of the accomplishments achieved by our dedicated aerospace professionals. But we can also be proud of the commitment made by the state of Alaska to build and maintain this state-of-the-industry complex at Narrow Cape on Kodiak Island.

I witnessed the first launch from the Kodiak Launch Facility in November 1998 of a sub-orbital rocket and the 15th launch in November 2010 of an Orbital Minotaur IV with multiple satellites. Flawless executions, and I can't begin to express the pride I felt in our leaders and technicians who brought to fruition what was once only a dream.

When I am asked if the state should continue investing in the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, I respond with a strong YES. We should diversify when it makes sense. Going from being an oil-revenue-dependent society to a state with diverse opportunities for more high-paying technical skill jobs for Alaskans shows financial wisdom. When I first supported our entry into the aerospace sector, little did I foresee how the opportunities for Alaskans could expand to a statewide benefit.

We need to continue to make the necessary investment in aerospace. With oil prices currently far exceeding state projections, Alaska has the money to wisely invest in our future. Providing state funds to our state-owned corporation so it can continue to build a statewide aerospace industry is an appropriate investment of our wealth. We must not let this opportunity to continue to diversify our economy slip through our fingers. Twenty years from now, with a vibrant aerospace industry, Alaskans will be remembered as the visionaries who anchored 21st century businesses in the last frontier.

In 2009, with the ever-expanding potential for commercial and government aerospace activities in Alaska, the name was changed from the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation to the Alaska Aerospace Corporation. This action reflected the positive achievements of our state-owned enterprise, as an ongoing vibrant venture.

Today I am proud to see our corporation aggressively pursuing business opportunities in both small and medium lift rocket launches, operations and maintenance in missile defense, collaborative relationships with the University of Alaska to provide internships and jobs for Alaska graduates, and expanding our employment skills potential into space-related businesses.

Arliss Sturgulewski is a former state senator and former Republican candidate for governor. She lives in Anchorage.