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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Space Exploration by NASA

Exploration and Investigation

History recalls that there have always been explorers in the human race -- people who want to expand their horizons, investigate their surroundings, and understand the complex nature of the environment, the Earth, the Solar System, and Space itself. Apart from space exploration, there are countless scientists around the world 'expanding their horizons' in many fields of endeavor. Who decides how much funding those fields of endeavor will receive, and who decides which ones are worthy of receiving funds? In the end it is likely to be a political decision. A wealthy country can probably afford to fund scientific investigations as well as looking after the poorer members of its society.

This is part of a speech given by Michael Griffin (ex NASA Adminstrator) to the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 10, 2008

"To me, the person who best captured NASA’s true mission was Gene Roddenberry, with his immortal line about the mission of the Starship Enterprise, “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no [one] has gone before.” That’s almost perfect; I think we’re more likely to create new civilizations than to find others, but I love those lines, and if it wasn’t for the royalties we’d have to pay, and of course the split infinitive…

"All joking aside, there are several nuggets of wisdom in these words, nuggets that speak not only to the public’s perception of what we do at NASA, but also serve to provide a deep sense of purpose to the work you all perform as lunar and planetary scientists. You here today are the ones who explore strange new worlds, seek new life, and who go where no one has gone before. Do you ever think about what life might be like for working scientists a few hundred years from now, maybe by comparing the trails we are blazing today with those cleared for us by Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and many other astronomers and planetary scientists? Could they have ever imagined what we are doing today? Can we possibly foresee anything of the world of, say, the 26th Century? We are living today in exciting times. Planetary science is going through a true Renaissance age; some of the discoveries of this age will be discussed at greater length right here at this conference. For example, it had been 33 years since NASA last flew by the planet Mercury with Mariner 10. But just two months ago, MESSENGER recorded spectra and snapped over 1,200 images of previously unseen features on the planet Mercury’s surface, and we will see even more this October during its next flyby. I can’t wait. Meanwhile, in orbit around the planet Saturn, Cassini will fly within 50 kilometers of Enceladus this Wednesday to sample water-ice samples and other gases. Previously, Cassini revealed that Saturn’s planet-sized, organic-rich moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves here on Earth. And who among us was not awed last year by the time-lapse images from New Horizons when it observed a spectacular 200-mile-high volcanic eruption from the Jovian moon Io, and spotted the infrared glow from at least six other active volcanoes?

"We are exploring strange new worlds today, and you are the scientists who are making it happen. It may not be as dramatic as portrayed in science fiction – but it’s not fiction. It’s real. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is currently operating over fifty flight missions in the various Earth and space science disciplines, and Alan Stern’s team has heeded the advice of the science community in formulating a more balanced portfolio of missions – large, medium, and small missions – while addressing the priorities articulated by the Congress, President, and various science communities.

"While we might all wish we had more money to fund each and every space mission ever desired or proposed, it is a fact across, stretching across multiple Presidential Administrations and Congresses, that NASA simply does not have the budget resources to accomplish all of the many and varied space and aeronautics missions that our many constituencies would like us to do. The President’s request for NASA in FY 2009 is $17.6 billion out of $3.1 trillion for all U.S. government spending, less than 6/10ths of a percent of the entire Federal budget. We don’t get anything like the 24% of the budget that the average American thinks we receive, and so we must set priorities, establish a careful balance between them, and ask members of the space community to respect these priorities as well as NASA’s other mission areas, human spaceflight and aeronautics research, as worthy and noble endeavors in their own right."
[emphasis by me!]

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