Tuesday, July 25, 2006

To Understand and Protect Our Home Planet

WorldChanging reports that the phrase, "To understand and protect our home planet" has been deleted from NASA's mission statement.
NASA's mission statement used to be “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.” Now, however, it's been changed:

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.” ...
Although this change is supposed to reflect a renewed focus on going to the moon and Mars, it is profoundly ironic in light of what astronauts have said about seeing Earth from space. Here are just a few samples:

"It isn't important in which sea or lake you observe a slick of pollution, or in the forests of which country a fire breaks out, or on which continent a hurricane arises. You are standing guard over the whole of our Earth." --Yuri Artyukhin

"As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests, extending along several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leaped to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world." --John-David Bartoe

"After an orange cloud -- formed as a result of a dust storm over the Sahara and caught up by air currents -- reached the Philippines and settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the same boat." --Vladimir Kovalyonok

I am a huge supporter of human space exploration, but I believe NASA's actions are short-sighted. Last year, they made deep cuts in the Life Sciences budget, including the development of bioregenerative life support systems that will almost certainly be necessary for long voyages. Now, the closely related Earth systems science is feeling the pinch. NASA's mission statement actually plays a role in the selection of research priorities. WorldChanging continues:
As we've said before, to truly know the Earth, we need to take to space. A whole array of useful information about our planet can only be learned by leaving it -- whether by launching satellites, sending unmanned probes to other planets, or even shooting ourselves into the depths of space. Space exploration is green, and, even more, the green benefits of space exploration may be the strongest argument for undertaking it.

They also suggest we spread the word about the mission statement change and put the deleted phrase on as many web pages as possible. I just did. Are you game?

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