Universities should take advantage of NASA plans

President Barack Obama spoke at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to reassure Florida voters that his ambitious space policy will not spell the end of NASA. His plan to refocus funding on research and development of new technologies could give state universities an important role in the future of space exploration.

Obama has drawn criticism for his plan to scrap the Constellation program that aimed to put humans back on the moon. He believes returning to the moon is a dead-end. Instead, Obama announced plans to take astronauts to a nearby asteroid by 2025 and visit Mars and its moons by the 2030s.

It would be hard for NASA to focus on deep space exploration when it must spend billions simply to get astronauts into space. That’s why Obama proposed giving private U.S. industries the job of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station and spreading research out among more institutions.

Schools should vie for research funding. Space technology is an important Florida industry and it should stay that way.

Donald A. Kniffen, vice president for science at the Universities Space Research Association, said to the Chronicle of Higher Education that because NASA will be able to focus more on research, universities will likely benefit.

Kniffen said appointing Robert D. Braun, director of the Space Systems Design Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology, to the new NASA position of chief technologists is a positive sign to universities. Braun wants to create of new space technology rather than improve older technology.

“It means that they want badly to make sure that a lot of this money goes to the universities,” Kniffen said.

As a premiere research university, USF should seek funding to increase the state’s prominence and to keep the future of space travel in Florida. The technological innovations needed to meet Obama’s space goals provide countless opportunities in all areas of study.

The Obama administration has made it clear it is open to new ideas. Obama’s federal budget allots $1.2 billion “for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries.”

While Obama’s controversial plan will cause job loss at NASA, Florida universities can still benefit from the changes.