Sunday, July 13, 2008

Starfleet Academy -- A Proposal

Several educational paths, systems, and organizations already exist to provide the knowledge, skills, and credentials needed to work in the aerospace industry, become an astronaut, or become a space scientist. However, I've got another hot idea in the back of my brain: we need a university (or more) that will train the next generation the skills needed to explore, work, and live in outer space permanently. In short, I think it is time to create the 21st century's equivalent of Starfleet Academy.

Bill Cosby used to say that "Intellectuals go [to class] to study things that people do naturally." That could be true. However, when it comes to doing things in space, nothing about the activity will be "natural." The environments--atmospheres, gravities, soil chemistry, what have you--will all pose unique constraints on human activity, and our technologies will have to cope with them. Many activities will have to be completely redone. Others, managed by teleoperated robots, will be easily handled from an office here on Earth.

We will also face challenges in space because it will be an international undertaking. This means a more rigorous education in foreign languages and diplomacy than most Americans are used to receiving these days. What I'm proposing is a program that would encompass some or all of the following programs:

The schools above mostly cover physical science disciplines, except for the law schools and the Foreign Service Institute. I would include the following "required" courses in the curriculum:

  • Comparative government
  • Economics (Chicago or Austrian school, not Marxist, thank you very much)
  • Technical communication/writing
  • Comparative religion

Why these? Because the students coming out of this school should be--in my mind--well versed in the Western traditions of equality under the law, trial by jury, representative government, freedom of speech, balance of powers, separation of church and state, and other notions that have allowed the world to advance over the past 500 years. They should also understand basic economics, under the assumption that we're going to have a capitalist, not socialist economy up there. They should be able to write and speak about technnical subjects clearly, both to other technical professionals and to laymen not so well versed. And yes, they should have some understanding (notice I do not say "appreciation" or "sensitivity") of the other cultural traditions of the world, since they are likely to be interacting with them in one fashion or another.

As you can see, this would be a wide-ranging university/academy, which would obviously demand multiple tracks, as well as (possibly) multiple locations and facilities, but the whole would be dedicated to building and sustaining human society beyond this planet. Ideally, this institution should be privately funded and publicly accredited. Financial aid and scholarships would be available at competitive rates. Given the specialized nature of this university, perhaps arrangements should be made for any graduates to automatically get first choice of any off-Earth jobs through one of the sponsoring organizations or companies.

Other ideas welcome.

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