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Defunding the International Space Station would be a mistake, a Mason professor says

February 15, 2018

Michael E. Summers, NASA, Trump budget, International Space Station

Michael E. Summers

The United States would lose the ability to tackle some of the biggest challenges when it comes to space travel and exploration if it defunds the International Space Station (ISS), a George Mason University professor said.

“It was with puzzlement and almost tearful sadness that I read President Trump’s proposed budget,” planetary scientist Michael E. Summers said of the document that defunds the ISS by 2025. “The ISS is a symbol of our thirst for exploration. We must use it for research that will be the foundation for our next steppingstone outward, whether that is to Mars, the asteroids or the Moon.”

Summers, a co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, said that foundation includes the development and refinement of techniques in space medicine. It is also where we can develop new industries based on microgravity manufacturing.

The proposed elimination of NASA’s Office of Education would also hasten the decline in this country in the encouragement of youth to pursue careers in science and technology, Summers said. NASA, he added, has been an incredible success in inspiring students to pursue STEM careers, citing the 18,000 applications NASA received for its next class of astronauts.

“It appears we have not learned the lessons from retiring the space shuttle fleet,” Summers said. “We now must hitch rides for our astronauts on the Russian Soyuz rocket because we did not better prepare for new astronaut launch capability. Will we next need to rent space on a Chinese space laboratory to do space manufacturing experiments? Will we need to learn about space medicine from the Russian space program?”

“Exploration means more than just going somewhere new,” he said. “It means understanding that environment, how it can impact humans, and how we can leverage what we learn to further exploration.”

Hopefully, Summers said, Congress will resist the intention to defund the ISS.

Michael E. Summers can be reached at 703-993-3971 or msummers@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.