Is space for ordinary people?



A blue ribbon Advisory Council to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently reported the results of its 1-year study on whether to send private citizens on space shuttle missions. The answer from this panel, which was made up of an astronaut, a physician, several major space industry executives, and the author James A. Michener, was yes. If this result is acted upon, private citizens may fly on a shuttle mission in this decade.

The NASA Advisory Council claimed at the outset that the concept is not to be misconstrued as a self-serving public relations program. The main objective, it would appear, is for laymen to provide real functions in space missions; they could add a valuable dimension to the missions, if only by communicating first-hand space experiences to the general public. But, in addition to the widespread public interest in space, ordinary citizens are needed now and in the future: Inspace technological manufacturing plants appear to be a good bet in a decade or so, and civilians can contribute to readiness programs as they work with highly specialized astronaut pilots.