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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Launching A Mission

Launching a Mission

     Maintaining a focus on the space exploits of our country reveals another quirk. This chapter opened with a quote from John F. Kennedy urging the support of our whole country as it embarked upon a space race with the Russians. Much has happened since that call to action. Man landed on the moon. Rockets were replaced by the space shuttle. Astronauts have guided the space shuttle upwards on over ninety separate flights. Yet, despite an increase in the frequency of space travel our nation has largely been unmoved by these expeditions, with the unfortunate exception of the tragedies of The Challenger and The Columbia. Why have we become nonplussed?
     Legions of skeptics, while applauding and admiring the determination of seventy-seven year old John Glenn’s return to space in 1998, have asserted that NASA was resurrecting and exploiting Glenn’s position as an aging icon to spark interest in their work. Whatever the motive; it worked. Glenn was paraded down New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes” soon after his triumphant return. A population skewed toward middle aged baby boomers once again displayed their endearing worship of the brave astronaut. His trip held the attention of the public. For a brief slice of time the country was enthralled by the deviation from the perceived sterile, technocratic, business like image that people have of astronauts conducting esoteric experiments and deploying satellites. It remains to be seen whether NASA will be able to reinvent itself and sustain the public interest and support so necessary for its funding.
     In the months since I started a draft of this Blog entry, it has become apparent that NASA continues to change its role and scope. A privately sponsored space craft recently delivered a cargo load of supplies to the orbiting manned international space station. It appears that for-profit companies will fill the void and transport materials back and forth from earth to space stations. Beyond that, it sounds like some of these same enterprising businesses are developing plans for ships to mine minerals from asteroids, and many other possible ventures. NASA may be relegated to a marginal role in future space operations. It remains to be seen what NASA will be like in five years.
     Now, let’s examine public school education on a similar arc. The republican presidential nominee has expressed ardent support for choice to be exercised by parents in selecting learning experiences from a host of possible service providers, such as on-line virtual schools, charter schools, private schools, and others. Will the meaning, purpose, mission, and existence of the public sector of education fade like NASA?

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