A teacher may be launched into space in 2009—not by NASA, but by a group of space-flight companies trying to inaugurate an era of private space travel.
The Space Frontier Foundation, a Nyack, N.Y.-based industry group dedicated to the settlement of space, announced plans last month for a privately financed “teacher in space” program that aims to recruit 100 teachers a year as passengers on suborbital flights, which reach space but do not attain the altitude and speed needed to orbit Earth.
The concept is a modest relative of the Teacher-in-Space project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which received a devastating blow when the space shuttle Challenger crash killed teacher Christa McAuliffe and her crewmates in 1986.
Under the private-sector initiative, teachers would receive only minimal training and return to the classroom a few days after their flights, which would last only a couple of hours.
Three aerospace companies—XCOR, Rocketplane, and Armadillo Aerospace—have each pledged a $100,000 “scholarship” for one teacher to ride on their spacecraft, which are now under development, according to William M. Boland, a business executive who is the team leader of the project.
Although none of the companies has a craft fully qualified for space, the viability of such ventures has been shown by SpaceShipOne, a privately built manned craft launched into space twice last year. Its designer, Burt Rutan, is an adviser to the new project.
Teachers’ involvement will promote space tourism and the commercial market, but also rekindle interest in scientific and engineering careers among U.S. students, Mr. Boland said.
Mr. Boland said more than 600 teachers have expressed interest in flying in space, based on a survey on the Web site for the project, www.teachersinspace.org.