NASA’s new hope for space exploration may lie in private space companies. The government’s fiscal year budget for 2015 was a blow to astronomers, slashing funds for things such as the “Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)” which uses a telescope attached to a 747 plane to monitor the atmosphere. The Spitzer Space Telescope, although it is in good working order and producing groundbreaking insights about the nature of the universe, is on the chopping block as well.
The panel charged with the reviewing of NASA’s space studies voiced deep concern for the future of America’s lead in the study of the universe if funding cannot be appropriated for space-based observatories. Mandatory budget cuts have stretched NASA’s annual budget to a breaking point.
Private space companies could be the solution to NASA’s space exploration goals quandary and also a new hope for the scientific community’s growing concern about the government’s role in future funding for crucial projects. Publicly traded companies such as Raytheon and Boeing are well-known, but there are also private, lesser known companies that are growing in numbers, including non-profit ones.
Many of these private companies have their own agendas; however, if a mutually beneficial partnership could be reached, it could advance the goals of NASA’s ambitious plan while creating opportunities for a whole new platform for space exploration and possible colonization. One such company that could help NASA achieve these goals is Blue Origin, LLC, whose founder, Jeff Bezos is also the founder of Amazon.com. Blue Origin is currently at work developing a vehicle that will launch and land vertically.
Another company that could prove to be beneficial to NASA is Deep Space Industries. It is a company which is interested in extracting usable minerals from asteroids and creating viable processes for manufacturing them on site. Deep Space Industries already has missions planned for 2015.
Also serving as an example is Planetary Resources, a company which is already in the business of asteroid mining. It is looking into new processes and discovering resources that will open up the Solar System to exploration.
Companies such as these are on the cutting edge of science. Though they may also be driven by their own corporate agendas, they are a new hope for NASA and could be utilized in a partnership which could join the companies’ interests with NASA’s wealth of knowledge of the physics, composition and mapping of the universe. These companies, in partnership with NASA, could produce astounding breakthroughs in the scientific community, as well as breathe life into projects such as SOFIA and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
There are also non-profits that are making headway on their own into space exploration. One such organization is The Planetary Society, which was founded in 1980 by the late Carl Sagan. Today, it is headed by a group of scientists that include Bill Nye, CEO (from Bill Nye the Science Guy) and Neil Degrasse Tyson, whose latest project was the television show Cosmos, which received critical acclaim.
The Planetary Society, alone, has been able to generate funding for their latest project, a radiation fueled light sail that is capable of observation as well as travel, and that puts astronomical research in the hands of universities and institutions at a feasible cost. The Planetary Society prides themselves in bringing the wonders of astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics to the everyday layperson, thereby giving accessibility instead of exclusivity to the people of Earth to dream big and create grassroots change in the research and funding of current and future projects.
The important thing is that there may be new hope for NASA and its exploration goals in spite of funding difficulties. That hope lies in private and non-profit space companies and organizations bringing innovative and creative ways to advance the study of the universe, with or without funding allocated by Congress.
By Adrianne Hill