Happy 50th NASA! What you've meant to us.
In the course of work on a client's news announcement today, I learned from a colleague that today marks the 50th anniversary of when President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which spawned the creation of NASA. I wasn't alive at the time, but I find the period of history and the motivation behind the Act's passage fascinating. We were falling behind the Soviets in the space race. This country was shocked by the launch of Sputnik and it brought into immediate realization that a dramatic turnaround was needed to reassert our scientific and engineering dominance.
Being in the high-tech and life-sciences industries, we have great reason to celebrate this birthday. It has been argued a great deal over the years how important the set of government initiatives that included NASA was to spawning an era of technological innovation unequaled in history. This included the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which eventually created the Internet; education programs intended to train a new generation of engineers; and significantly increased support for scientific research.
More importantly to us and our business, however, about 10 years after the creation of NASA, it launched the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program, which has been the central link between the agency and the commercial sector. In particular, this program has provided incentives through investments for the private sector to come up with inventions that could benefit NASA, as well as provide access to NASA inventions that commercial companies can use to create new innovative products. NASA publishes a publication annually called Spinoff "featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology."
This article lists 10 of the more interesting NASA inventions that we use every day. The ones that apply to me include water filters, ear thermometers, cordless tools and satellite radio/TV. It also includes long-distance telecommunications on the list, giving some insight into how important NASA has been to accelerating this industry.
So, while NASA symbolizes our scientific and technology leadership over the past 50 years, the question is whether we can maintain it. The government has reduced the role it plays, and we're in a period of time when there is less and less interest in math and science in schools and enrollment in computer science programs is way down. What is it going to take for us to maintain our leadership? Can the private sector alone ensure this will happen, or does the government need to play a similar role it did in the 1950's in catalyzing a renewed focus, perhaps around something like alternative energy or nanotechnology? What do you think?