The “Dubble Bubble Hubble Telescope”? The “Raisin Bran Rocket?” What about the “Curiosity Mars Rover brought to you by Mars Bar”?
All of these and more could be possibilities as NASA is said to be considering endorsements and naming rights for rockets.
“There is interest in that right now,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said recently. “The question is, is it possible? And the answer is, I don’t know. But, we need somebody to give us advice on whether it is. “Why would we want to sell the naming rights? Well, because then those private companies can then embed in their marketing campaigns NASA. We can embed NASA into the culture and fabric of American society and inspire generations of folks that will create those next capabilities to keep America preeminent not only in space but in science and technology and discovery and exploration.”
The development comes at a time when NASA’s relevance appears to be waning. The agency’s budget, expressed in constant dollars, peaked in the mid-1960s. In 1966, NASA commanded 4.41 per cent of the total federal budget. But that figure is now less than one half of one per cent.
And while U.S. President Donald Trump wants NASA to get back on the moon, his 2018 budget cut funding for it by about $200-million.
“This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” Trump said, “we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps, some day, to many worlds beyond.”
But the 43 year-old Bridenstine seems to have plans even more ambitious than that, suggesting that astronauts could be there more or less permanently.
“When you look back at history, look back at the end of the Apollo program, 1972 when we didn’t go back to the moon… you look back and there was a period of time there after Apollo and before the space shuttles when we had a gap of human spaceflight capability,” Bridenstine told Space. “And then you go forward and look at the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, and now we’re getting to the point where we’re ready to fly commercial crew. We’ve got a gap of about eight years in our ability to fly crew into space. When we think about the [end of the] International Space Station, we want to make sure that a gap doesn’t materialize,” he said. “I believe it is important to do everything in our power to prevent another gap from occurring and that is why it is important to start this conversation now.”
The NASA boss says the key technology is a “Gateway”, small, space-station-like platforms.
“We want to go to stay,” he said. “And the Gateway, in my view —I’ve been convinced— enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars,” he said. “There is no other architecture that I have been presented with, given the current budgets that we have, that enable all of that.”
But all this takes cash of course and more recently Bridenstine hinted a worry that companies like SpaceX may be able to pay highly qualified employees better.
“We need to find ways to allow astronauts to engage with private sector companies and the media to ensure that the astronauts, NASA and STEM return to a place of importance in popular culture,” he said. “The nation should fully leverage our astronauts as ambassadors to inspire the engineers, mathematicians and scientists of tomorrow.”
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