I had a remarkable experience in DC last week.
I went down to join Ed Wright, six of the seven Pathfinder teachers and a couple of other Advocates to brief some key Congressional and Senate offices. Aside from expressing our enthusiasm for the proposed NASA budget and the need to fix the ITAR mess, our agenda focused on NASA’s education mission. We naturally told them about Teachers in Space and also of the educational angle on Centennial Challenges and NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program.
The experience was remarkable in two important respects. First I got the opportunity to spend time with some of our Pathfinder astronaut teacher candidates. I already knew these are pretty remarkable people. I learned that they are even more amazing than I thought possible. I am so pleased that these seven people are representing the Space Frontier Foundation and our vision of a free and open frontier in space. I am not easily impressed by people. I am VERY impressed by each of these seven teachers.
The other thing that made this notable was the reception we received, especially in offices that are in active opposition to the proposed NASA budget. For example, Ed was on the team that went to an office representing one of the major NASA centers. The staffer was very friendly and said, “I’ve seen you guys on TV.” At the end of the meeting, he took the team in to meet the Congressman.
I was on the team that visited Sen. Richard Shelby’s office. I had visited the same Legislative Director (LD) earlier in the month for ProSpace with Marc Schlather and Pat Bahn. That meeting had not been terribly friendly, to say the least. When the staffer immediately recognized me and asked if I had changed my mind, I figured we were in for another difficult meeting. So, I just shut up and let teacher Rachael Manzer talk. The LD was clearly fascinated and told us that 20 years ago she was one of the kids who grew tomato seeds that had flown in space and what a big impact it had on her.
While I certainly don’t expect politicians under pressure to bring home the bacon to come around to active support of the proposed NASA budget, there is hope that their opposition can be moderated into grudging acceptance of the inevitable. Doing so in the context of also supporting an educational agenda for space may be just the honey we need to get some key players to swallow what they see as the bitter medicine of reform.
Pork barrel politics is now the most serious impediment to progress in civil space. We can, and will, scream and yell about it until hoarse. But we also need to understand that many legislators with their hands on the purse strings believe that they are obligated to protect the vested interests of their donors and political supporters. No matter how much we dislike it, political reality is what it is.
Teachers in Space was designed to:
- inspire young people to study math, science and engineering,
- attract and retain gifted teachers in classrooms,
- build the market for human suborbital flight and
- place suborbital flight is a broader context than just joy rides for rich people.
It pleases me immensely to discover that it is also able to assist in facilitating the implementation of reforms that we’ve been advocating for many, many years.