As the senator at the helm of the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper has a view of the aerospace industry unlike anyone else.

5280: You were 17 when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. What did that moment mean to you?
John Hickenlooper: My generation always asked, “Where were you when we walked on the moon?” It was an achievement that everybody in the country participated in. One argument you could make about the division we have now is that we don’t have that same shared mythology we did then.

Still, it seems like space is one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on.
Recognizing the reality and the importance of our technical competition with China is something that really does unite both parties. There is this sense of urgency that we need to move quickly.

I couldn’t help noticing the subcommittee’s previous name was Space, Science, and Competitiveness.
Competitiveness in terms of technology has big ramifications for our economy. I think, as our political system becomes, let’s just say, more dynamic, part of my job is to keep the focus of both Republicans and Democrats on maintaining the momentum we’ve created.

How does that momentum ultimately trickle down to regular folks?
GPS. That’s one of the first things I think of. It came out of our space program. There are all these unbelievable innovations connected to putting people on the moon or in space, and now more than ever, people recognize that innovation and a willingness to embrace new ideas is going to be a big part of the solution to so many of the challenges we face, whether it’s climate change or feeding a growing world.

Colorado’s reputation among aerospace experts has exploded over the past couple of decades. Is the same true among your colleagues in Congress?
I don’t think other senators are aware of it, and I don’t feel any need to brag about it because there are only so many faucets into the basin. An awful lot of work is being done in Colorado to get back to the moon, and my colleagues don’t need to know how many jobs that means.

Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas Hunt

Nicholas writes and edits the Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for 5280.com.