Last night several organizations co-hosted a “Teachers in Space” roundtable at George Washington University. The idea behind Teachers in Space, unlike NASA’s Teacher in Space program in the 1980s and the current group of educator astronauts, is to fly current teachers on suborbital spaceflights using any number of commercial vehicles currently under development, then get the teachers back in the classroom so they can share their experience—and, presumably, enthusiasm—with their students. Most of the panel discussion focused on the benefits of the program as well as the history of NASA’s past teacher-in-space efforts.
The roundtable came after three days of Congressional staff briefings by several people affiliated with Teachers in Space. Project manager Ed Wright said that they held several dozen briefings and were pleased with the results; he cited one hour-long briefing earlier in the day with a Congressional fellow who was particularly excited about the concept.
Right now, though, Teachers in Space isn’t seeking any specific legislation or federal funding. Wright said that they did get some commitments of support, up to offers to introduce legislation on the issue if needed, and also got feedback on how to win federal funding to help support this project. (Teachers in Space has several flights donated to it by several vehicle providers, and has also arranged a purchase of flights from XCOR Aerospace.) One earlier proposal called for funding flights of 500 teachers a year: one from each Congressional district plus several dozen others.
Charles Miller, president of Space Policy Consulting, said that it might still be too soon to pursue specific initiatives like that. “If you started a Teachers in Space program right now, 500 teachers per year, it would change how the Hill perceives risk,” he said. “They would probably try to put more burdensome regulations on the emerging industry, which is not ready for it, because you’re protecting the teachers.” He expected that in the next few years, once suborbital vehicles begin flying, and flying safely, that teachers, perhaps supported by funding from Congress, will soon follow. “It may not be the right idea right now, but within the next five years, they [Congress] could see it being the right idea,” Miller said.