Monday, August 13, 2012

Solicitation for public comment from NASA's Strategic Direction Committee

I have decided to respond to a solicitation for public input regarding the future strategic directions of NASA.  This solicitation is put out by the National Academies and mandated by the US Congress. The dateline is the 17th of August of 2012.

I have no illusions that my comments on the various topics solicited will ever be read by any committee member, or even any human being in the intended audience. But that is not the primary reason why I decided to respond. I have had, for many years, ideas about what we can do to push our society and culture forward. So I took this opportunity to finally place some of these thoughts on paper. This solicitation became my catalyst to 'make my mark in the sand' or to  'state my case'  so to speak. A permanent, if somewhat electronically ethereal, statement of my opinions.

You learn things about yourself when writing such a document. Like for me, I was somewhat surprised to find out that I have enough of a nationalistic streak to want NASA to reserve it's exploratory missions, the flag planting missions, exclusively for itself. And apparently, it's a view I hold closely enough to put down on paper.

I see NASA's untapped potential to be actively used as a driver of ambition among the young adults of our country. I want to see emphasis given to science based curriculums in schools.  NASA should be the vehicle of choice. When it comes to the money, I pointed out that historically the cost has been fractions of a penny for every dollar that NASA derived technology has generated. If we do not invest, we stagnate. 

In case you didn't already know (or if you do go ahead and skip this paragraph :-). NASA at roughly $18 billion takes up less than one half of one cent ($0.0043) of every dollar the country spends. Compare this to say, Education which gets 4 times more or an overall of $0.02 per dollar spent,  then there's the in-famous Safety-net (entitlement) programs at $0.13, Defense is at $0.20, Welfare and Medicare together at $0.41 per dollar spent. Naturally I had suggested that they increase NASA's budget substantially. To at least a whopping whole $0.01. That's right! I asked that least one cent of every dollar the feds spends goes to investing in our collective tomorrows.

In some cases, the concepts proposed are at best unsupported or at worst prohibited under current law. NASA, for instance, is denied self-promotion. Which I think is a shame. We paid for the accomplishments, we are proud of the dedicated people who pulled them off. We should give NASA the ability to trumpet successes. Will it be propaganda? For sure some will see it that way, but it is also factual and the truth and we should be allowed to be proud of it.  Also it will go a long ways in debunking the many urban legends, myths and other misconceptions about NASA and it's accomplishments in particular and science in general.

What I am saying in many of my answers is, where it is appropriate, we can and should change the law.

The concepts and schemes proposed are bold and radical. But I was writing it to be so. To be, by design, a strategic document written in broader strokes than a tactical one dealing with the details of individual ideas.

I used plenty of technical terms, abbreviations and concepts in my essays without decoding them because of space constraints, expecting that the intended readers (if there are indeed any, but knowing what I know about these data collection systems I doubt there will be) would be technically versed and will understand my meaning and context.  If it seems like I performed a lot of extraneous hyphenation of words. I did. I'll admit to my verbosity and to premeditated circumvention of the "300 max words" validation algos that the input form employs.

My thanks goes out to the folks that have helped or offered suggestions with the grammar, style, and structure of my essays (you know who you are.. :-).

There were 9 questions in all. The first 2 dealt with name, institution and qualifications. The actual comments start from question 3. The following few blog entries are Chino's Take to questions asked in NASA's solicitation for comments. Comments on my comments are invited.


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