As the world waits for the final go ahead to send the Space Shuttle Endeavour hurtling toward the heavens one final time, a group of Maitland Middle Schoolers find themselves reaching for the stars with it, and finding them ever farther from their grasp.
Education, exploration and economics have rarely been so at odds in the United States, and in Florida, as they are right now. And as we peer warily into an uncertain future, what is most nearly certain is that we will soon explore less and spend far less money to teach our children about the world they will soon shape.
Those middle schoolers, part of Lynn Mederos’ eighth-grade glass, designed an experiment to test the effects of microgravity on ethanol’s ability to kill E. coli bacteria. That experiment waits inside Space Shuttle Endeavour’s cargo hold for a journey rarely taken, and one that will soon be a memory.
Just as that experiment is seeking to research a possible disinfectant for astronauts in space, we’re cutting both education and our space program — literally slashing our funding of the future.
Ironically, the 19 kids who helped design their own experiment may not have been aware that another NASA experiment is a part of their bodies. NASA helped create invisible braces back in the mid-1980s, developing transparent aluminum that is now seen — or not seen — in the mouths of schoolchildren and celebrities alike.
Some of them probably also wear glasses, which thanks to a scratch-resistant coating developed by NASA, are 10 times more difficult to scratch.
When the final shuttle touches down and the vehicles prepare to be taken to their final resting place — Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., and Enterprise, the original shuttle test vehicle, to Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City — they’ll land on safer runways and be transported on safer roads, thanks to water channel grooving that directs water away from the roads. That NASA development, according to NASA, helped reduce highway accidents — where hydroplaning in the rain is more frequent — by 85 percent.
And one thing everybody can be thankful for — cleaner water — comes courtesy of another NASA development, the activated charcoal water filter, first developed to filter and recycle drinking water in space.
All of those developments started with ideas to make the world a better, safer place, while making the universe safer and easier to explore. But with no manned NASA launch vehicle yet scheduled to replace the shuttle, a decreasing fraction of astronauts will have to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft.
And fewer of them will be equipped to reach that stage. For the young scientists at Maitland Middle School, the future is dimming, with a budget likely to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott that will slash Bright Futures scholarships by 20 percent per student — the biggest cut in the history of the program — and make them harder to get.
At the same time that the state is cutting scholarships to help pay for college for hard-working students, they approved allowing soaring university tuition rates to go even higher — eight percent higher — while giving universities the opportunity to send that hike in tuitions upward to 15 percent in the next year.
Meanwhile the budget cuts $308 million in taxes — money that could have gone to schools. In a weak nod toward helping the nationally funded space program, the state is offering $10 million in corporate tax breaks for space-flight projects.
And there’s a (very dim) bright spot for students too: after cutting $1.35 billion from public school funding — putting us even farther into dead last out of 50 states in per capita student funding — the budget does give one thing back: a $25.6 million tax amnesty for back-to-school supplies.
That’s not thinking about the future. That’s turning our future into a line item and marking it red.