Vince Bilardo spent time with us discussing, among other things, his career, his biggest achievement, and his feeling on our future as a country in space. He opened by giving us a brief background of his career. Vince Bilardo has spent over 28 years in government work, including 8 with NASA. Having moved from several different centers throughout his career, he stated that there was little difficulty in switching not only from NASA center to NASA center, but also between agencies.
A big project, perhaps the one he is most proud of, was his launching of the Ares 1-X. He gave us a brief background of the project and how the upper stage simulator was built at Glenn and then shipped to KSC. He showed us spectacular launch video taken of the launch in the autumn of 2009. Seeing that rocket launch – something he helped achieve – with such success must have been one of the most breathtaking moments of his life, as it left most of us in awe from just witnessing it.
After a bit of discussion on his involvement in the project, our talk began focusing more on the future of humans in space. Perhaps the most insightful response came when he stated that we must always keep sight of the big picture, both in politics and in science. He is hopeful that the commercial space industry can succeed, but as he knows firsthand, these systems are extremely intricate, complicated, and costly, so they must also be given time.
Following this he further discussed the atmosphere at the different NASA centers, particularly the four that he had previously worked at (NASA Headquarters, Ames, Langley, and Glenn). To our delight, when we brought up electric space propulsion, he concluded his comparison of Glenn to JPL with “JPL can’t hold a thruster against us,” making a fitting end to a very interesting discussion.