New Space: A Stellar Opportunity for Cooperation on STEM Education

By Eric Brachhausen, Exec. Dir., Spaceport America Institute, Posted 04/10/09


As the several U.S. states with spaceport ambitions work their development plans, it is natural for the competitive instincts associated with economic development to come into play.  After all, who wouldn’t want an edge in attracting technology-based business?

But this time the situation is different. First, the ramping-up of New Space is occurring in times of great economic distress.  The public reaction ranges from largely oblivious to a sense that it is all part of a decadal hype about personal space travel.  Therefore, we have a collective industry issue in helping people understand that this time it’s for real.  Second, the development of a spaceport involves concentrating peak technical skills and other high-tech resources, which in turn creates the potential for positive impact on STEM education of an unprecedented order.  

Having each spaceport take a go-it-alone approach to dealing with these challenges and opportunities risks fragmentation and dissipation of financial resources.  Perhaps worst of all, we risk foregoing an extraordinary chance to bequeath to future generations a multi-sector, collaborative learning engine that could dramatically improve the quality of their lives and their world.

For these reasons, cooperation among spaceports should be the rule.   By this, I mean that the country’s spaceport authorities must appreciate that competition is situational, not necessarily part of their organizational DNA.   Of course we can and will compete to win business from existing and emerging customers.  But spaceports need to cooperate when opportunities to “grow the pie” for all are obvious, and where challenges are beyond the resources of any single player to address.  Such factors clearly apply to the need to uplift STEM education throughout the United States.  

Either through their own government authorities or through affiliate organizations “outside the firewall,” spaceports have the power to transform the public perception of personal and commercial space travel, as well as the workforce on which its future growth depends.  We at Spaceport America Institute (SAI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, act as the non-government partner to help Spaceport America achieve its goals.  SAI has the improvement of STEM education in New Mexico as a major programmatic thrust.  For the benefit of spaceport stakeholders everywhere, we call on our counterparts not already so involved to commit themselves to uplift STEM education, both regionally and beyond.  Let everyone know the spirit of cooperation burns bright in New Mexico.  We invite the sharing of concepts, experiences, and best practices among all who don’t want to miss this launch window for the next generation.  


The Federation of Galaxy Explorers!

From: Richard Mains, 04/24/09

In addition to your sound concept for the space portals to collaborate on STEM education, I would strongly encourage them to link with other groups using space exploration to spur student interest in STEM. There are several, but I just learned about the Federation of Galaxy Explorers ( who are already active in your state (New Mexico) as well as many others nation-wide. Check out their great video that shows student activities that can happen anywhere kids and volunteers gather. Also, the California Space Education & Workforce Institute's ( STEM Inventory Project (a DoL WIRED grant initiative coordinated via the California Space Authority, a rich resource in this area. The spaceports have much of value to bring to all, including regional jobs, but their ability to spur kids to participate in and shape the future may be one of their most lasting contributions.

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