As White House budget plans to reshape NASA programs in favor of commercialization, Elon residents are mixed on support

Jack Dodson

Updated: March 7, 1:49 p.m.

The space program through NASA that’s been part of the United States for the last 30 years was essentially put to rest by Preisdent Barack Obama this year when he put forth a budget that funds the program mostly to shift its priorities and look into commercializing the world beyond Earth’s orbit — and Elon residents are mixed on whether they support the idea or not.

Students at Elon University said they weren't comfortable with the privatization of space travel. Photo by Jack Dodson.

As the last six astronauts to ride NASA’s Discovery are waiting to return Wednesday, the Smithsonian museum is getting ready to add the ship to its collection for public display. The remaining three shuttles in NASA’s program will also be retired this year, and many museums across the world are vying for them.

As of this morning, the space shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station for its final trip home after more than eight days at the facility. The trip was supposed to be shorter than it turned out to be, as NASA extended the Discovery’s stay at the ISS for three days.

“The budget request would scrap NASA’s Constellation program to build the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets for new manned moon missions — a $9 billion investment to date,” reads an article on Space.com by Tariq Mlik. “The request calls for $19 billion in funding for NASA in 2011, a slight increase from the $18.3 billion it spent in 2010.”

Students interviewed said they thought the government program would be most effective, keeping to a system that already works.

“I think that’s something that should be something that’s kept in house of the government,” said junior Adam Shreiner.

Senior Tayler Mettra agreed, saying she thought space programs run by the government are important.

“I don’t think ever putting things totally private hands is the best idea because there’s a lot of personalization that goes into that,” said student Tayler Mettra. “It’s been working, so why change it?”

But Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Connie Book said she thought the government employed a commercialized system already — one that’s been in use by the Russians already for years and has worked for them.

“I think that there are commercial interests in our activity in space and those who benefit from it should pay for it,” Book said.

And while lawmakers are questioning the shift, NASA has backed the plan.

“This new path is a big change. I realize that,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters in a teleconference. “But it is not a change from the guiding principles of NASA. It makes America stronger. It enables us to draw more strongly on the ingenuity of the commercial sector.”

At a time when Obama’s reelection is looming and national opinion toward fixing a tired economy is high — Gallup polls suggest at least half the country doesn’t approve of Obama’s policies on economy — the idea to focus on commercialization and the private sector could play a factor in his recovery plans.

2009 Gallup poll: Americans find the costs of NASA to be justified

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