24 July 2015

NASA's Forward Thinking

NASA is an exemplar of agility. NASA, and other public institutions like NOAA and NSF, have survived a massive and prolonged political assault on science, reason, and the inconvenient truths that follow from data collection and analysis (e.g., global climate change).

I'm a critical optimist, but I sense that a 35-year pendulum swing toward short-term profiteering, pillage of finite resources, and gutting of public institutions that began with the Reagan Presidency in 1980, will once again, swing back toward serving the common good.

The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan represented a point of inflection in the US. Reagan ushered in a prolonged insurgency built around the destructive notion that government-funded institutions do not and should not exist to serve the common good. Other than an uninterrupted series of blank checks issued to the DoD by Congress, NASA is one of several examples of beleaguered public institutions that survive on the shear will of forward-thinking people.

Sunlit Earth from DSCOVR
In early July, a cooperative program between NASA and NOAA was able to make the first full sunlit photograph of Earth from space since the iconographic Blue Marble images taken by Apollo 17 in 1972 - a 43 year gap!

Despite a decades-long pummeling by a stingy, small-minded Congress, NASA continues to do important and essential science. The cooperative DSCOVR satellite that made the beautiful image of Earth will float in gravitational equilibrium between the Sun and our planet monitoring climate change.

NASA's lesson is that it's near impossible to extinguish the passion and will to learn. NASA is testament to our innate capacity to dream and to Think Big. Ultimately publicly funded institutions like NASA, NOAA, NSF, and NIH will once again lead the world in basic research and cooperative R & D. Well-funded, cooperative public program will seed economic growth and drive job creation.

I can't profess about the organizational structure of NASA, or how they have been able to adapt to decades of piss-poor support from Congress, but suffice to say, where there's a will, there's a way.

"As we begin to comprehend that the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship hurtling through the infinity of space—it will seem increasingly absurd that we have not better organized the life of the human family."
Hubert H. Humphrey, San Fernando Valley State College speech, September 26, 1966.