My final destination

by Karen Phillips

I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I remember going over to my best friend Zach’s house every weekend and lying in the grass in his backyard staring at the sky for hours. We looked for galaxies, planets, satellites, shooting stars and anything else that resembled extraterrestrial movement. We could talk about space forever — along with our dreams and aspirations for the future; somehow they seemed to go hand in hand.

I took my dream a step further and went to school for astronomy and astrophysics with the hopes of becoming an astronaut at some point in my lifetime. I became a gymnastics coach and a writer instead.

I spent my Thanksgiving break in California with my husband Jason and his extended family. Jason’s friend Seth and I were having a discussion about NASA and the space program on our way back to the airport. He said President Barack Obama has shut down the space program and removed all government funding from NASA, both on a federal and a state level, which ultimately means the demise of NASA and the collapse of American space travel.

Although not fully educated on Obama’s plan for NASA, I argued that under his plan, NASA would rely more on private funding, but it would not be shut down and America would still make it back to space.

We argued for about 15 minutes on this issue, with Seth saying that if one individual personally funds a trip to space and attempts to travel there, it doesn’t mean the United States of America travels there, just like if Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, the United States of America doesn’t get credit for inventing Facebook.

I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about and we ended our discussion. However, the issue didn’t leave my mind. I thought about it the whole plane ride back from Los Angeles to Greensboro.

In April, 2010, Obama outlined his plan to restructure America’s space program. “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future,” Obama said. He proposed that over the next five years, his administration would increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion, which seems like a far cry from shutting it down and removing all funding.

“In order to reach the space station, we will have to work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,” he added. In other words, NASA is now upheld through a private-public partnership.

Obama is focused more on the International Space Station. “We’re no longer racing against an adversary,” he said. Our new challenges are different that our past challenges and we have to change our program based on what our new goals are. “What was once a global competition has now since become a global collaboration.” What we have to focus on now is increasing scientific knowledge and encouraging exploration. Obama’s goal is to further the investigation of science in order to improve our education system and increase jobs. “My plan will add more than 2,500 jobs along the space coast in the next two years,” he said. He said increasing the private sector’s role in NASA will also help accomplish this.

“We will actually reach space much faster and more often under this new plan,” he said. “We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.” Obama wants to send astronauts to deep space by 2025 and to orbit Mars by the mid 2030’s. He said he wants to be around to see the first landing on Mars.

With his space initiative, what Obama has ended is efforts to return to the moon, and to space shuttle flights, which were already scheduled to expire from the previous administration.

What he has encouraged is more ingenuity to create higher-tech equipment so we can go further than we’ve gone instead of retracing the steps we’ve already taken. I don’t see this as an end of the space program, I see this as the modernization of it. That’s what John F. Kennedy would have wanted, and that’s truly the American way.

Although my vision to become an astronaut didn’t pan out, there’s always something deep in my stomach that twitches every time I look up at a full moon, or a little lump that develops in my throat every time I see a star shoot across the sky. I will always have a strong connection with the vastness of space and all of its complexities. Although I’ll never get the chance to go up there and visit outer space for myself, I’m glad that we’re continuing to challenge ourselves so that future generations can take advantage of new knowledge we’ll never get to learn from in our lifetimes.

I told Jason that when I die I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread throughout outer space. That’ll be my ticket up there.