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The Pioneer

NASA Shouldn’t Shift Towards Private Spaceflight

Rishi Khalsa

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July 4th won’t be the only showing of spectacular fireworks this month, as the Atlantis Space Shuttle will compete with bottle rockets and sparklers to awe the nation on the shuttle’s final disembarkation to the International Space Station.

Mark your calendars for July 8th, because it not only represents the end to NASA space shuttle missions, but also an end to the heyday of the American astronaut.

President Obama outlined a shift in the US Space Program in his speech at the Kennedy Space Center last year, where he called for a movement of shuttle operations to the private sector.

While I applaud the current administration’s commitment to NASA by investing in space technologies as the nation slowly emerges from recession, I question the manner in which the administration seeks to do so.

Namely, the administration’s planned shift to “buying the services of space transportation” from private corporations.

While this may undoubtedly have the effect of increasing shuttle efficiency through competition in the private sector, leaving space flight in the hands of for-hire entities will sap away the glory once reserved for our heroic astronauts.

In the same way that we don’t venerate mercenaries serving abroad in Afghanistan, this country will not have the same regard for NASA’s hired help.

However, the issue of most concern is how this will impact our youth.

Without figures like Buzz Aldrin, will children still aspire to serve mankind by becoming astronauts?

This policy shift will negatively impact the interest of our nation’s children in mathematics and science at a time when the United States is already lagging in these categories.

According to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, the United States has below average mathematics scores and just average science scores in an international education comparison of 65 countries where Shanghai, China had the highest scores in both categories by far.

While it is true that we haven’t had the same sense of awe for the Neil Armstrongs of the modern space industry, we still hold them in high regard.

Who doesn’t think of Mark E. Kelly, the husband of the recently recovered Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as an American hero as he served aboard Endeavour?

A move towards privatization of space flight may also put our national security at risk as more technology comes into the hands of profit-orientated entities that are not accountable to the public, and may sell services to the highest bidder.

I may be overly nostalgic, but the best way to serve the nation’s interests is to keep space flight where it belongs, with our astronauts.

So come July 8th, keep your eyes to the sky for that slim chance to see Atlantis dwindle away in the morning light, just as the guiding star of our astronauts, too, begins to fade.

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California State University East Bay
NASA Shouldn’t Shift Towards Private Spaceflight