Sunday, May 3, 2009

New York Times on NASA

The New York Times put out an article highlighting Obama's inaction in appointing a new administrator for NASA.

The author, Kenneth Chang, highlights the challenges NASA will face, and the goals is intends to pursue, in the context of not having an administrator 100 days into Obama's term.  It is interesting ot note that stories concerning NASA are so often dominant in various publications' science and technology sections.  While NASA and space exploration can be thought of as quintessentially "basic research," with uncertain prospects for economically productive applications through at least the medium term, as recently as 2007, the job that NASA is doing polled fairly well.

Whie Gallup's methods don't delve into details of why people support NASA; in other words, it is unclear exactly why people support space exploration, whether they expect "results" or are just supportive of efforts to understand the mysterious universe that we are floating through.  In all likelihood, it is a combination of the two, and indeed peoples' reasons are likely to be complex.  Nevertheless, general support for NASA does not necessarily equate with a high willingness to pay, or incur opportunity costs in government spending, for the work that NASA is doing.

Obama displayed some implicit understanding of this during his speech to the National Academy of Sciences last week, and this was duly noted by the New York Times:

The Times points out that Obama avoided explicitly espousing the future of space exploration, focusing instead on NASA's relevance to climate change; there was of course an undercurrent of respect for scientific inquiry throughout Obama's speech.  

This coverage appeals to a public support for space exploration in particular.  

The implications of Obama's delay in selecting an administrator for NASA are uncertain, and it is still unclear when he will select one.  NASA continues to push an ambitious short to medium term agenda, and its ability to achieve its goals will shape space exploration.

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