Paul Berry (04/14/04)
In the telecon with Dr. Garvin yesterday, I found his knowledge of the current activities of NASA and the activities planned for the future very intricate. Before, I had the preconceived notion that aside from a few smaller endeavors, the robotic missions to Mars and (before the Columbia explosion last year) the regular manned shuttle missions were the main focus of NASA's employees. However, after the telecon and some outside research, I learned that the NASA plate is very full and simultaneously diverse. The Cassini – Hyguens satellite headed for Jupiter will be able to study not only Jupiter and its rings, but also the highly acclaimed natural satellite of Jupiter, Europa, which has been hypothesized as the most possible place for life to exist outside of Mars and Earth. This tiny ice ball is not the only subject of interest, as NASA's plans for the future included phasing out the shuttle fleet, introducing a new (possibly nuclear powered) space vehicle, abandoning the ISS (not to mention Hubble), and of course, in accordance with President Bush's Space Initiative, send a manned mission to Mars. These goals would have been out of the question 15 years ago, and might still be somewhat unrealistic to complete in the next decade, but the fact that new initiatives are being infused into NASA may be the fuel that this aging administration needs to revive the interest in space exploration that was so apparent in the 1960's and early 1970's. Prioritizing will be the key to success, which is what Dr. Garvin spoke about in his presentation.
In his presentation, Dr. Garvin highlighted a “triangle” of sciences that will be critical in any mission, anywhere. At the corners of this triangle three respective groups were represented, all with interests in their particular field that while beneficial in their own ways and contribute to the greater good, must be prioritized in order to allow success in later missions. I think that it is important to focus on particular areas of science and not on all three, as the manned missions and robotics missions now will be very susceptible to failure, and the machinery on board in very delicate. Attempting too much might be risky.
The three areas of which I have spoken are Hypothesis Driven Science (Classical Sciences), Engineering Capable Science (Science Enabling), and Measurement Driven Science (Applied Science). In my opinions, the Applied Science category might be the most important, strictly for research purposes, and would benefit NASA in future missions as it could not only allow us to improve our current technology, but possibly also open doors to new undiscovered areas. The Hypothesis Driven Sciences also has a great potential to solve problems, (hence the name) posed by any interested parties. I think that NASA could most benefit by collaborating with outside universities and research institutions in this sphere, as it would not only cut financial costs to some degree (which has been of immense debate as of late), but also infuse ideas that NASA could benefit from with minimal consumption of resources and manpower. The third region, Science Enabling, is designed purely for the sub-benefits that the other categories have the potential to have, which is to research and develop new technologies. The benefits of new technology after the Moon Race some 40 years ago not only put billions into the economy, but also benefited the public in ways that we now take for granted (Velcro, for example). The Science Enabling corner definitely has the likelihood to help us technologically speaking.
All the three areas highlighted above are all dependent on one factor: leadership. In the question that I asked Dr. Garvin, he answered that for NASA to prepare for the next century of space travel, a reorganization of NASA's management would have to be undertaken for success to materialize in not only manned missions to Mars, but also aeronautics research here on Earth. He told me that at the national level, NASA is outlining the infrastructure of management and organization that must be created to support the gigantic project of time and effort to send and safely return men to Mars. Starting from the top down, everyone must be at their best in order for this project, which will undoubtedly have its setbacks and failures, to succeed. As I aspire to join the Astronaut Corps, I have faith in NASA's engineers and upper management, but at the same time hope that they are thorough and concise in their building of the space craft that will take me on the long journey to Mars. This can only be done with all goals in mind, and motivating, inspiring managers from the top down.