One giant leap for educator astronauts

The successful launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery with educator astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold onboard is an important symbol for education, but NASA's education programs need more support, according to leaders of the nonprofit Teachers in Space program."We congratulate Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold on [Monday's] successful launch, and we look forward to their historic space walks," said Teachers in Space project manager Edward Wright. "The educator astronaut program is getting back on course, and we look forward to an exciting two week mission. At the same time, while NASA finishes work on the International Space Station, a lot of work still needs to be done to repair NASA's neglected education programs." A 2008 review of NASA's pre-college education program by the National Research Council noted both management difficulties and budget problems. "Over the past five years, [NASA's] education priorities and management structure have changed multiple times," the NRC report said. "In the 13-month period between September 2005 and October 2006, there were four different assistant or acting assistant administrators for education. NASA's education program has also faced a downward trend in the budget and specifically for K-12 STEM education activities. The reduction in funds is due in part to reductions in budget allocations from Congress as well as redistribution of funds within the agency.... In addition, the percentage of mission funds that must be allocated to education and public outreach in the Science Mission Directorate was recently reduced as the result of an agency-level decision." "NASA's education programs, like science and aeronautics, have suffered due to competition with larger NASA programs" said Space Frontier Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka. The NRC report stated that, "There has been a general decline in education funding across the Office of Education Programs, from $201 million in fiscal 2003 to $162 million in fiscal 2006... The budget request for 2007 funding for the headquarters Office of Education Program was comparable to 2006; the total 2008 budget request dropped substantially, to $121.9 million." "The Obama Administration has made revitalizing science, technology, engineering, and math education a key point in its technological policy. NASA can play an important role in that revitalization, and Teachers in Space stands ready to help any way we can," said Wright. Teachers in Space is a joint project of the Space Frontier Foundation and the United States Rocket Academy. Working with the companies that are now developing low-cost, reusable spacecraft, Teachers in Space wants to put a thousand astronaut teachers in American schools within the next decade. For more information about Teachers in Space, see www.TeachersInSpace.org. ********** Published: March 20, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 48