"'A man steps off a ladder.' This is not a setup for a joke. It is the greatest accomplishment in human history."
Those are the opening lines to a great article linked in NASA Watch today and I couldn't have said it better myself. Reading the article was a reminder to me of two things: first, that NASA has the potential to do great things, and second, that NASA needs to do a better job of letting the public know what they're doing. It's a long article and I think both my space dork and non-space dork readers alike would enjoy it but for those who don't have time I'll tell you what I thought.
Working on the space program is a great opportunity but it's easy to get caught in every day frustrations and forget what amazing work we are doing. Seeing a shuttle launch through someone else's eyes reminded me why we really do this. People often ask what they are getting in return for money spent on space exploration, especially in tough economic times like these. I usually tell them about all the advances in technology that have come from spaceflight, such as GPS. But there is more. Exploring new frontiers is an innate part of who we are. I think this quote from George Mallory sums it up well, although he was talking about Everest, not space.
"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is no use'. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."
Every once in a while, take a moment to step back, take a deep breath, and look up. Who knows what you'll see?