Emily Boushee photo
Astronaut Randolph Bresnik (Emily Boushee photo)

Being in space is like swimming in a pool, Astronaut Randolph Bresnik told a group of Farmington High School students Monday, drawing some laughter.

Bresnik was showing video of what it is like to eat, drink, and float around the International Space Station.

“You chuckle, but it is that much fun,” Bresnik said. “It was physically joyful just to be free to do the things that you’ve always envisioned or that you’ve seen someone do in a movie. The closest thing to it is swimming in a pool.”

Bresnik, who spent 12 days in space in 2009, was speaking to Farmington High students with U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty. The two are trying to get more students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math — often referred to as the STEM subjects.

Bresnik admitted that he was not particularly excited about his science classes as a young person, but he assured students that with STEM education and some hard work, they too could one day find themselves in space.

“These are just ordinary people who happen to be able to work hard in school and become pillars of whatever it was they chose to do, and got selected to do this particular job,” Bresnik said gesturing to a photo of his fellow astronauts.

But sending men and women to space is not a small task. In the past few years, government funding has been drastically reduced and commercial space flight has begun to fill in the blanks.

President Barack Obama’s administration and NASA are moving forward quickly with plans to get the government out of the low-earth-orbit business. As a result, budgets have been cut. The shuttle program has been shelved and in 2011 Obama canceled the $9 billion Constellation program that was supposed to succeed the shuttle.

Bresnik told students that NASA is suffering as a result of those decisions. Only 0.4 percent of the national budget is allocated to NASA. This is about $58 per American per year, or as Bresnik put it, about one tank of gas per year. This lack of NASA funding has led to the U.S. no longer being a leader in space, said Bresnik.

“Now our only to ride to space is the Russian Soviet vehicle and we’re paying our Russian friends $65 million per astronaut to go up there for six month missions. If we’re going to consider ourselves a leader . . . it would be much better if we had our own capability.”

He also emphasized the many practical applications of NASA’s science and research. On his mission, about 85 percent of the water they used was reclaimed through filtration. Bresnik says this technology can be applied here on Earth in regions suffering from water scarcity.

NASA also is working hard to answer some important questions about the future of the human species.

“How do we exist when Earth suddenly becomes a place not habitable for us anymore?” he asked. “. . . Are we spending all our money on the problems of today or are we actually looking out toward the future and putting something in the bank and investing in . . . what will help us survive as a country?”

Those are just a few of the difficult questions Bresnik and NASA are trying to answer.

In order to make sure the next generation of students are ready to answer those questions Esty, a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has submitted two bills.

Emily Boushee photo
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Astronaut Randolph Bresnik (Emily Boushee photo)

The first is the STEM (Supporting Teachers and Enhancing Manufacturing) Jobs Act which seeks to enhance STEM support for K-12 educators through professional development opportunities. If passed, the bill would provide some fellowship grants that would encourage educators to learn more about STEM and impart that knowledge on students.

The bill is about more than just providing grants and funding, though, Esty said, adding that she hopes that incentivizing educators to learn more about STEM courses will lead to a stronger interest in science and technology among students.

“There are exciting careers in math and science, none of which are possible unless you’ve got that basic skill set and you’re not likely to get that skill set unless you get excited about science, engineering and math,” Esty told Farmington High School students

The STEM Jobs Act also is an attempt to bridge the gap between the state’s underemployed and unemployed, and manufacturing community’s need for a skilled workforce.

“As I’ve visited manufacturers across our district, I’ve heard again and again from employers and employees about the need to boost workforce training and STEM education to ensure our young people have the skills they need to succeed in the high-tech manufacturing sector,” Esty said.

Esty’s other bill, the First STEP Act would work towards having nationally-recognized credentials for those graduating from STEM courses or apprenticeship. Having standardized credentials would help encourage a more mobile workforce, she said.

Esty says there is good bipartisan support for both bills and the hearings on the legislation will begin in January.