Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Space Education Moment

I first heard about Teachers in Space at the 2006 International Space Development Conference. They're essentially a nonprofit run by the Space Frontier Foundation that will set aside slots for teachers to travel into space on one of the any-day-now suborbital space tourism outfits. The concept sounded pretty cool. As the "Vision" part of their web site describes it:

Imagine thousands of astronaut teachers, in schools all across the country, sharing their spaceflight knowledge and experiences with millions of students. This vision could become a reality within the next ten years.

What I've liked about the space tourism movement/industry is the way it democratizes spaceflight. After all, what is more likely or easier: joining the Air Force, becoming a pilot, and picking up three or more college degrees, all for the hope of going into space while competing with 500 other super-competent people, or just getting rich enough to buy a ticket? There are many routes to becoming rich in America, and a surprising number of them don't require a college education. And if you manage to put $40,000-a-year teachers into a space tourism rocket and let them come back and talk to their students about their experiences--well, heck, you've "infected" a whole new generation of space geeks! And these kids will have a different expectation of spaceflight than those of us raised under the Aura of the Astronauts.

Don't misunderstand me--I greatly admire our astronauts. I see someone like Story Musgrave or any of the Shuttle astronauts who come to Marshall, and I read their resumes and feel like an absolute slacker. They really ARE our best and brightest. But if future Americans are going to have the opportunity merely to go into space as paying passengers, they don't NEED to be our best and brightest, merely damnfool enough to plunk down the coin to go. And that would include me. The only future that would allow an English major like me to get into space would be one where I can go as a passenger, not as some sort of pilot, scientist, or technician. So I think Teachers in Space is a good idea. Maybe I ought to become a teacher. I might have a better chance than the getting-rich route!

Ad Astra and good night.

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