A New Hope for NASA’s Soul

Recently my extended family was chatting about “nasty corporate entities you have worked for”. I have quite a list. Logging companies, oil companies, militaries. It ain’t pretty. My mom pitched out NASA as one of mine.

Now I don’t quite agree with that. It’s far too true that the vast majority of NASA’s resources are committed to cube-esque self-perpetuating boondoggles on the one hand, and boyish triumphalist pre-obselete politicized megafollies on the other. And that’s bad. Some people are advocating a new apollo program to save our planet from epic climatic perturbation, and instead what we have is a more literal apollo program to stand around on Mars a bit. Kind of a waste of our treasure, and a bit off the point as a new spiritual uniter of our civilization. Yes, OK. But.

NASA also does some of the best work on the planet on gathering data about the planet. Planetary and regional and landscape-scale data that is sine quo non for understanding and responding to planetary and regional and landscape-scale problems, which increasingly exist. The fact that we can think globally and quantitatively at the same time, at all, is largely thanks to the boffins and administrators at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and their fancy ballcaps.

The biggest and best and most mature of NASA’s earth-observing programs is the Landsat series of satellites and their accompanying infrastructure and data processing and distribution programs. Anybody who works in satellite monitoring of the earth’s functions has used Landsat data, and probably mostly Landsat data. Around the time that NASA announced it’s Bush-mandated refocus on putting people on Mars, they also quietly announced that the ailing Landsat program was going to be left to die in space, dieing as the satellites died one by one.

Well, as of this month, they’ve backed off that position. They are once again going to allocate some small fraction of their budget into useful programs. According to this report, a resolve exists to make the “moderate-resolution imaging” program a permanent and stable thing. This is good news. So yay NASA! And yay me for taking their money (sort of, occasionally)! And yay Landsat! May you ride the horizon a few decades longer.

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[…] of the agency. It also mentions the earth-observing program, which I think is a third NASA branch unto itself. The article suggests the unmanned probe makers may tolerate the manned exploration romantics just […]

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