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Case For Space

A Quick Thought
When we look back 400 years, we ponder the risks and challenges that travelers faced when they braved the ocean. They explored in wooden boats less than one-hundred feet in length, had incomplete maps, crude navigation tools, and the knowledge that not everyone would make it back alive. What will historians say about our generation 400 years from now? I hope we are reflected with a similar manor of amazement; just think...we traveled into space via small aluminum cans the size of a walk-in closet, used chemical rockets to escape Earth's gravity and only went as far as the inner solar system. This is our time to shape the future! -Bruce Davis


Words by Carl Sagan
Our remote descendants safely arrayed on many worlds through the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life there may be, the only humans in all the Universe came from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.


Bruce's Views of Space Exploration and America (Table of Contents), Note: This section is currently being resturctured and a few topics are currently not available (04/01/12).

Importance of Educational Hands-on Programs at NASA (written in 2008)
Many students have dreamed since childhood of working in the space industry. Others were drawn to the technological challenge of building spacecraft while in college. However students discovered the field of spaceflight, a helping hand was often there to inspire them. Educational programs and corporate mentorship are an effective way of inspiring the next generation and aid the development of future space programs. In addition, mentorship exposes students to a ‘real-world’ perspective, which gives motivation and confidence to pursue a technical career.

NASA has historically played an active role in the United States educational system in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines by providing research grants to universities, student projects and outreach events at all educational levels. The NASA Education Office mission statement can be summarized into three primary goals: 1) To strengthen the nation’s future workforce, 2) Attract and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and 3) To engage the American population in space exploration [1]. NASA’s strategy aims to accomplish these goals by inspiring the youngest age groups with lectures and visual demonstrations, by engaging students in secondary schools with small projects, and by providing real-world, hands-on experience to students at the college level. This method works well in that NASA has the ability to step up the intensity of the lesson plans as students become more mature and are inspired to pursue careers within the STEM disciplines.

Although this plan is effective, its capability has been consistently decreasing for the past several years as NASA funding towards education has been declining. In 2004, NASA funding towards education was $170 million. It is presently funded to $154 million, and this is projected to fall to $150 million by 2012 [2]. This results in less interaction between students and NASA employees. Funding cuts are also not consistent with the recommendations of the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm" [3] congressional report compiled in late 2005 which states: “The nation faces several areas of challenge: K-12 student preparation in science and mathematics, limited undergraduate interest in science and engineering majors, significant student attrition among science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students, and science and engineering education that in some instances inadequately prepares students to work outside universities.” This report stresses that a healthy student enrollment in the STEM focus areas will help maintain a leadership role in the high-tech industries in the increasingly competitive international market.
In addition to the concern of decreasing funds for education, the NASA workforce is aging, causing concern for a future gap in talented engineers to lead the Vision for Space Exploration over the next decade. The Committee on Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) stated in a recent report: “Over approximately the past decade and a half, the average age of NASA’s workers has marched steadily upward, and the agency now has a relatively low number of younger workers to assume future leadership roles in NASA as older workers retire. If it does nothing to achieve a better age distribution across its overall internal workforce, NASA will suffer a gap not only in technical leadership, but also in overall technical experience, especially if the development dates for key VSE components slip and highly skilled workers with experience in the Space Shuttle program retire. ” Figure 1 illustrates how the average age at NASA has significantly shifted over the past 10 years. If these trends continue, NASA will lack experienced engineers/scientists in the 2020 time frame -- when the VSE plans to have astronauts walking on the moon.

NASA Workforce
Figure 1: NASA workforce age/population over time [4]

It is clear that NASA and other STEM-related industries need to find innovative ways to inspire and train the next generation of employees in order to stay competitive in the world market. Tight monetary budgets, increasing demands and other related agency requirements limit the amount of discretionary funds NASA has available for education. As a result, solutions that utilize or modify existing programs and infrastructure are most attractive to motivate and train the next generation of high-tech employees.

Sources for Importance of Educational Hands-on Programs at NASA
1. NASA Office of Education Mission Statements, http:\\\about\vision
2. Data taken from NASA FY08 Budget Request and the FY04 Budget Reports
3. Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda , Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, The National Academies Press, Washington D.C. 2007
4. Building a Better NASA Workforce: Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, Committee on Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, National Research Council, 2006.
Contributions from Mike Grusin,