Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday, NASA

Fifty years ago as of this writing, NASA officially came into existence.

To most people today, NASA is a background concern, for some a source of pride and wonder, for others a waste of time and resources. It is almost always a nexus for controversy, in one way or another.

But I also think the NASA will turn out to be one of the real legacies that we leave today for world history. A hundred years or more from now, a lot of what's happening now--the Iraq War, the various 9and apparently endless) government scandals, the housing bubble bursting, etc--will be at most just notes in a history book.

But NASA, and what it accomplished, will still be pretty well remembered. The 'NASA Era" of the past 5 decades (and hopefully at least a few more to come) will be looked upon fondly, and perhaps even with a grumble of envy, much like the pioneer days of the Old West has been idolized all through the 20th century. This is not to say that the people who ran and worked for NASA were perfect--hardly. There have been a LOT of missteps, scandals, controversies, mistakes, and even outright bumbling. Lives have been lost, billions of dollars wasted, careers ruined at times.


NASA has done legendary things. They have expanded the scope of human endeavor and knowledge far further than any other single group in human history ever has before. Thanks to NASA, Earth Orbit, the Moon and Mars are no longer abstractions in the sky, but real, tangible places that either we or our machines have actually touched and investigated. Under NASA's watch, man made objects have visited alien worlds billions of miles beyond our warm, protective biosphere, and have crossed into interstellar space. The first human being to ever step foot on another world did so wearing a NASA logo. Seven of our solar system's planets were first seen close-up by NASA probes. The first craft to enter the interstellar void did so as a child of NASA.

These are not accomplishments that will be easily shaken from the collective human psyche. They will endure long after I will.

And so, hopefully, will the agency that was responsible for them. Happy 50th Birthday, NASA