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2000 Speeches
David Swain

David Swain

The Boeing Company

"Dream to Make Something Happen"

ASM International Materials Solutions Conference

St. Louis, Missouri

October 09, 2000

Our Past

We've come far as an aerospace industry. We've gone from Orville and Wilbur Wright to the novelty of "flying a few" to three million passengers on airplanes flying daily to almost every country. This took 97 years.

We've gone from putting Sputnik into orbit in 1957 to landing on the moon 12 years later to living on the International Space Station. This took 43 years.

We graduated from wood and fabric to swept-back aluminum wings and jet engines to composites along the way. We grew from slow speeds, low altitudes, and open air into high speeds, higher altitudes, and pressurized cabins. We soared from the jet age to the space age.

Technology allowed us to leap far. Deregulation allowed access for many. And the end of the Cold War cut the race for space. Basically, our journey has been about revolution and evolution.

Our Present

Essentially, advances in airplane materials and technology opened up space exploration. And there were many unknowns when the United States first went into space: heat loads on re-entry; limited data for calculations; mammoth, slow computers.

Today our Space Shuttle is a 28-year-old sustaining program. And, over time, we have simplified our designs: a tenfold reduction in parts, a tenfold increase in reliability, expanded computing power capability our pioneers in space didn't originally have.

But for our future, it's not enough. Greater access to space is dependent on more efficient, economical vehicles, such as our X-37 reusable space plane; breakthroughs in propulsion system technology that will allow us to design and build more efficient, economical launch vehicles; fuel efficiency solutions (it's like getting more miles per gallon with your Volkswagen); weight reduction breakthroughs. If we can get the cost per pound down for metals and materials, the market becomes elastic and opens way up.

For example, once the International Space Station is fully assembled, there will be a brand new venue for world-class, space-based scientific experiment and research. We will have an incubator for new inventions and applications. The low-gravity, high-vacuum space environment will offer us a new place to develop nanostructures and nanoscale systems that we can't create on Earth. I think this is pretty exciting.

Right now civilian space travel and tourism are a big dream, a big opportunity. If we can bring down the cost of going into space, if we can find a way to operate vehicles in space as we travel in airplanes daily today, we can launch the space century and change the complexion of our universe just as the jet age changed planet Earth forever.

But people will need places to go, so we will need to build advanced versions of the Space Station or explore living on other planets. If we want to do that, we'd better start to dream now, change now.

Today we mainly use and understand materials that we have known for a long time. In fact, Charles Martin Hall found his inexpensive way to produce aluminum more than 110 years ago. And while we might have better, stronger alloys now, we really need revolutionary breakthroughs to make the next huge leap.

I believe if we embrace change now, dream a little like Orville and Wilbur and Charles Martin Hall, leverage our history and knowledge of materials and metals, we can do amazing things. We can cross science disciplines and boundaries and work together more, collaborate, and learn from each other: materials engineers, chemists, biologists, aerospace engineers, physicists.

We can look to nature more and ask questions and explore more, right now: What causes a lump of coal to turn to a diamond? A beehive to be strong, lightweight? A spider web to be water resistant? A human hair to be strong and thin? A bird's nest to be resilient? A subterranean water system to exist almost without notice?

Our Future

If it took us almost 100 years to advance commercial flight, and almost 50 years to move into space, then our next leap should take about 25 years. To make that leap, we need revolutionary breakthroughs in disruptive technologies and nanotechnologies.

Here are just a few examples of what we need in aerospace: liquid mold composites, unitized metallics, titanium laser forming, and metallic process development. We also need to take advantage of miniaturization. Nanoscale science and engineering most likely will produce the strategic technology breakthroughs of tomorrow. Our ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create something new, something we could manufacture from the "bottom up," opens up huge vistas.

What could we do if we could create materials ten times stronger than steel but at a fraction of the weight? According to Dr. Neal Lane, assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and I quote, "Nanotechnology can have a profound impact on our economy and society, perhaps comparable to that of information technology or of cellular, genetic, and molecular biology."

Dr. Lane's February 7 report to Congress states that the ability "to synthesize nanoscale building blocks with precisely controlled size and composition and then to assemble them into larger structures with unique properties and functions will revolutionize segments of the materials manufacturing industry."

These breakthroughs could bring us nanostructured metals; ceramics and polymers at exact shapes without machining; nanocoatings for cutting tools, electronic, chemical, and structural applications; nanoinstrumentation for microspacecraft avionics; nanostructured sensors and nanoelectronics; and thermal barrier and wear-resistant nanostructured coatings. There are huge possibilities.

Now let me wrap this up with a call for action. I believe we need to raise the bar in materials technology. I believe we should be discontent to simply improve upon old technologies. I believe in what poet Carl Sandburg wrote: "Nothing happens unless you first dream." We need to dream again. Dream about new formulas, new metals, new materials. Dream about nanoscience, nanoengineering, nanotechnology. Dream about the possibilities, the opportunities, and then make our dreams come true. Then, and only then, can we unlock exciting frontiers with our discoveries. And I believe this conference is a perfect place to start. Thank you.