SEDS Appeals to Neil Armstrong on Future of Space Exploration

The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) has sent a letter to the White House, Congress and Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong urging them to support NASA’s commercial space efforts. The letter has been signed by more than 300 students from across the nation.

“Over the past year, as many individuals have offered their opinions on the best way for the US government to foster the next stage of space exploration, a critical perspective has been missing from this conversation: that of America’s future students,” wrote SEDS Chairman Rick Hanton in a cover letter sent to Armstrong. “Since we, as students, will be asked to implement the space programs of tomorrow, we thought it would be useful to add the student perspective to the nation’s current space policy conversation….

“We understand that you have been asked to speak to the House Science Committee of the U.S. Congress this week, and we would be honored if you would carry with you some of the messages that we 300 students put forth in our letter,” Hanton added.

Armstrong has been very critical of the Obama’s Administration’s policies concerning NASA. He will be testifying on Thursday with fellow critics Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17 fame and Mike Griffin, the former NASA Administrator. Maria Zuber, chair of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, will also testify.

The full text of the SEDS letter is below.

Dear President Obama and Members of Congress,

This year, as we celebrate both the fiftieth anniversary of human spaceflight and the accomplishments of the retiring Space Shuttle fleet, the exploration of space remains as critical as ever. Over the past year, many groups have offered their opinions on the best way for the US government to foster space exploration. However, one critical perspective has been missing from this conversation: that of the next generation. We, the signatories of this letter — 280 students from universities and colleges across the nation — are writing you today to ensure that our voice is heard in this ongoing discussion.

We are the ones who will be most affected by the decisions you make today. We are undergraduate and graduate students working hard to prepare ourselves for fulfilling careers as leaders and productive members of the civil, military, and commercial aerospace industries. We are the astronauts, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

We urge you to consider the following recommendations as you make the key decisions that will chart out the future of our nation’s space program:

Everyone wins when NASA partners with the commercial spaceflight industry.
NASA always has been and, we hope, always will be the world’s leader for human spaceflight. No other organization can boast of the accomplishments or the institutional legacy of NASA. However, NASA need not be the only way for people to get to space.

We believe that companies in the commercial spaceflight sector such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin offer huge opportunities for us as students, and for our nation. Many of us are eagerly applying to work at companies in the commercial and entrepreneurial space sector. We do so partly because we are excited by their “Silicon Valley” spirit of innovation, their inspiring founders—Elon Musk of Paypal and Tesla Motors, Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, Jeff Bezos of Amazon—and their fast-paced work environments. But we are also interested in working at these companies because we are greatly encouraged by the prospect of a future where these companies work alongside NASA.

We strongly believe that NASA and the nation both benefit greatly from investing in commercial spaceflight programs that will allow astronauts to fly on commercial vehicles; and we urge you to fully fund and support those programs. They offer a win-win situation: we ensure that the nation has a way–or, better yet, several independent ways–to get its astronauts into space following the impending retirement of the Space Shuttle, while the commercial sector will benefit from the support of NASA to grow faster and to hire more of us future graduates.

Open the space frontier to all.
For fifty years, NASA’s astronauts have been heroes to the nation. We share that respect and admiration for the hardworking men and women of NASA’s astronaut corps. However, access to space must not be limited just to this small group of people. Nearly all of us grew up wanting to be astronauts, and NASA should play a role in ensuring that that dream is open to all of us.

NASA and the US government can help make this dream a reality by doing two things: reinvigorating NASA’s role as a technology development engine focused on advanced concepts, and fostering American businesses focusing on safely taking humans to space. The technology that gets us to space today is essentially the same as what carried John Glenn to orbit decades ago; and, if given the appropriate direction, NASA has the talent to develop breakthrough new technologies that will dramatically increase the human presence in the solar system. At the same time, commercial space companies large and small are developing routine, safe, low cost vehicles that will allow many more of us to become astronauts, payload specialists, and passengers. We urge you to embrace the commercial spaceflight industry and help fulfill the dreams of so many Americans who want to fly to space, whether for pleasure, for business, or for service to their country.

Allow NASA to explore the solar system again by embracing commercial spaceflight.
The International Space Station (ISS) is an amazing and unprecedented laboratory. It represents the culmination of decades of hard work and billions upon billions of dollars. With ISS just beginning to fully deliver on its promise, it is critical that we keep the station in orbit and in service. At the same time, we as a nation are also called to turn our attention beyond ISS. We are united in believing that, by embracing commercial spaceflight and thereby reducing costs, NASA can refocus its exploration program to look beyond Earth’s orbit.

Whatever the destinations–the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids each hold their own appeal-what is important is that NASA be directed to send humans to explore our solar system, and to do so not on brief sorties but as part of a sustained exploration effort that constantly expands our knowledge and opens us up to new technologies and new opportunities. We are not a generation motivated by just flags and footprints; we desire exploration that is both inspirational and financially sustainable, and that will open up the solar system for exploration on a grander and more exciting scale than ever before.

This goal can be achieved by using new technologies achieved by NASA as well as new commercial vehicles being built by a wide range of American companies. Already, commercial firms are developing the capacity to deliver cargo and crew to ISS and to robotically explore destinations like the surface of the Moon. We urge you to direct NASA to use these commercial services wherever possible and to take advantage of the cost savings they offer to push ever further out into the solar system. NASA’s mission isn’t to be stuck circling in Low Earth Orbit; NASA should be exploring the frontier and developing new

Commercial companies will help grow tomorrow’s workforce through inspiring STEM outreach and hands-on training.
Many people have spoken about the need to encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As students, we believe that commercial companies—benefiting from the promotional resources and public attention that private firms command—will do a spectacular job of inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals. After all, what could be more inspirational than telling America’s youth that they will have the opportunity to go to space themselves; not just a handful of the most talented and fortunate, but all of them who desire to do so? The prospect of working for these firms or going to space using their vehicles and services will inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to take the most challenging classes in school and to develop new technologies and experiments that will make a positive difference in the world.

The low costs and high flight rates offered by commercial spaceflight providers also present a unique opportunity to allow students the chance to work on real projects that are flying to space. It is critical that students begin to acquire hands-on experience to complement our classroom studies, and commercial space flights allow low cost, low risk, and frequent opportunities for young scientists and engineers to develop real space hardware. Commercial spaceflight can play a key role in giving students valuable experience that will make us more productive members of the space exploration community or any other high tech field.

Thank you for your consideration of our thoughts on this important subject of human spaceflight. Here’s a final story worth considering: as NASA inspired and amazed the world by landing humans on the surface of the Moon in the late 1960s, the average age in NASA’s Mission Control was only about twenty-eight. People not much older than we are now played an enormous role in one of the crowning achievements in the history of the world. We believe that if NASA is refocused on developing new technology and on operating in partnership with the emerging commercial spaceflight sector, the youthful energy and excitement that allowed the Apollo missions to inspire the world and to reach unprecedented success will be rekindled. These commercial firms are the places we as students are most eager to work; and that enthusiasm is spilling over to NASA as the space agency begins to partner with this new industry.

The decisions you make today will decide whether we as a nation truly progress forward with our space exploration endeavors, or whether we lose out on the promise of the moment. We thank you for allowing us to make our opinions heard.


The following list of students from universities nationwide: