Former astronaut says U.S. must invest in space program

Mar 6, 2013

A Purdue astronaut alumnus thinks the federal government must have a strong space program. Mark Brown was with NASA for 13 years and served on two shuttle missions.

He expected a national debate on the U.S. space program during last year’s presidential campaign, but says that never happened.

“It’s incredibly important, not that going back to the moon or to Mars in themselves is that important, but the technology that’s developed through the research; the inspiration, motivation for our youth; science, technology, engineering and mathematics is priceless. The election is over. Now it’s time to go back and revisit that topic”

Brown believes the country needs to decide if there’s value to having a space program, and how much funding we are willing to spend. He thinks the advances in science and technology that come with a space program are important.

Brown says private companies are limited in what they can do, so government is needed for two reasons.

“First, to set the safety standards to make sure that we don’t do dumb stuff, which will occur. Second, there are going to be big programs only the federal government can help fund. Going back to the moon or going to Mars, either alone or as part of an international group, needs to be a government-sponsored activity.”

He says interest in the space program is cyclical and he thinks the United States is at the bottom of a cycle now. Still, he’s encouraging young people to pursue science and technology if they want to be part of the space industry.

“If you have a passion about the business – whether it’s as an engineer, technician, astronaut, pilot, whatever it might be – do your studies, work hard, get a good job that’s somehow related and keep working toward your ultimate goals. It can be done!”

Brown was the keynote speaker at this year’s Purdue Road School. He now serves as an aerospace consultant.