It's a big time at NASA. Scientific probes are sailing through our solar system, gathering legions of data and amazing photographs. Rovers are crawling all over intriguing extraterrestrial bodies, boring little holes into their surfaces and gathering samples. The Hubble Space Telescope is rewriting astronomy textbooks, almost single-handedly.
Scientists and engineers are designing new space vehicles, gigantic rockets and cutting-edge technology engines. Commercial companies are battling it out for the privilege of delivering astronauts -- both professional and tourist -- into space. And oh, did I mention we're 50-plus years old?
I am proud of NASA and what she stands for. I am prideful to have served as one of her employees, roaming the hallowed halls of the Johnson Space Center over a career that spanned 30 years. Oh sure, I was fortunate enough to finally become an astronaut, but the pride I share in this storied government agency stems from so much more.
NASA continues to be a solid investment. Yep, that's right, an investment. Most don't realize how our measly individual tax dollar/year contributions have led to thousands of paybacks, borne of the brilliance contained within her ranks. From power tools to invisible braces; from improvements in jet engine efficiencies to enhanced eye surgery techniques, NASA has been there, and -- with our continued support -- will remain. And that should make Americans extremely proud.
The perception that our space program disappeared with the mothballing of her space shuttles, or thoughts that what we do is a waste of taxpayer dollars, couldn't be further from the truth. Aside from the aforementioned spin-off paybacks, NASA continues to represent accomplishing the impossible and creating a sense of awe and wonder. Are we continuing to teach our children to understand this pride? Do we challenge them to look to the skies and dream of executing feats now deemed improbable? In my opinion, not nearly enough.
There will be those who will challenge this post. They will cite the need to "spend these dollars on Earth." They will claim there are too many needy people on this planet to be "throwing money away in outer space."
But I challenge them to look at the facts. And when they pull out their cell phone, fall asleep on their temper foam mattress and pillow, strap into their Air Jordan basketball shoes, or drink purified water from any available source, they should yell at the top of their lungs, "Thank you NASA," and be proud.
I can't wait to see what we'll have accomplished when she turns 100!