Thursday, July 22, 2010

NASA and the Presidents

I found this piece that talks about 10 presidents (through George W Bush…so we have 11 now obviously) since NASA’s inception and their impact. I thought I’d pull one out for you to share and you can visit the site to read the rest if you are interested.

I decided to go with a president not known for space exploration, Jimmy Carter. The article says Carter was the least supportive of human space exploration:
Jimmy Carter was perhaps the least supportive of U.S. human space efforts of any president in the last half-century, but as a trained engineer, he took a strong interest in the developments in planetary exploration that occurred on his watch. A presidential statement of space policy issued in October 1978 said, “Our space policy will become more evolutionary rather than centering around a single, massive engineering feat. Pluralistic objectives and needs of our society will set the course for future space efforts.”

One issue that persisted throughout the Carter administration was the appropriate number of space shuttle orbiters to build, and the future of the shuttle program overall. NASA argued five orbiters were needed to provide enough capability for the many missions it anticipated. Carter decided to approve construction of only four along with “structural spares” for a fifth vehicle. (Those spare parts were used a decade later to build a replacement orbiter after the Challenger accident.) In 1979, Carter considered terminating the Space Shuttle Program, given its technical and schedule problems. He was advised, however, that the program was too far along to make such a move productive and the shuttle was needed to launch reconnaissance satellites required to verify arms control agreements – a top Carter priority. Based on these considerations, he decided to continue the program. Carter had hoped the first shuttle launch would occur during his term in office, but it slipped to April 1981.

In 1977, Carter contributed a message to the golden phonograph records placed on the twin Voyager spacecraft, which now are traveling in interstellar space. The message stated:
We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some – perhaps many – may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: ‘This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so that we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.
Journalist Hugh Sidey wrote in 1978 that while being briefed by the late astronomer Carl Sagan about planetary exploration, Carter, “eyes bright with the sense of adventure, urged that any new missions to Mars seek out mountains and valleys and old volcanoes instead of staying on the more level or gently rolling surfaces.”

Carter took the occasion of NASA’s 20th birthday on Oct. 1, 1978, to visit the Kennedy Space Center and bestow the first Congressional Space Medals of Honor on astronauts Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad, John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Betty Grissom, the wife of astronaut Gus Grissom. In his remarks that day, Carter said, “Like the sea, the land, and the air, space will become an environment in which human beings can live and work for the welfare of their species.” Carter concluded his remarks by stating, “In the last analysis, the challenge of space takes us very close to the heart of things. It brings us face to face with the mysteries of creation, matter, energy, and life. The men we honor today met that challenge, and were equal to it. Our nation met that challenge, and was equal to it. And in the final two decades of the 20th century, America will reach out once more to the beauty and mystery of space. And, once more, America will be equal to the task.”

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