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Ask Obama to Restore NASA's Home Planet Mission
Alex Steffen, 27 Jan 09


It's time for Americans to declare some principles about the role of science in our nation, and we'd like to make a specific suggestion.

American science is certainly returning from exile. Dennis Overbye puts it nicely:

"All right, I was weeping too.
To be honest, the restoration of science was the least of it, but when Barack Obama proclaimed during his Inaugural Address that he would 'restore science to its rightful place,' you could feel a dark cloud lifting like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country.

It's long been one of our core principles around here that science, practiced with a full embrace of its core values of openness and service, and leavened with a dash of precaution, is one of the most important drivers of our ability to change the world for the better, and that the openness of science is part of the same societal commitment to openness in general that powers democracy, collaborative culture and transparency in politics, law and commerce.

In other words, if we wish to save the planet, we must deal with the scientific realities of living on that planet and the democratic realities of living with one another. Now it appears that we have a U.S. administration that understands this simple truth.

Here's one of the best small, free ways I can think of for America to signal that change: restore NASA's mission statement of service.

See, back in the dark ages of 2006, Bush hacks in NASA censored the space agency's mission statement. It had been "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can." The next thing we knew, the "understand and protect our home planet" part was cut, implying that NASA has no legitimate role in applying science to the planet's problems.

That should change. Indeed, we should go farther, explicitly adding two key ideas which have always been part of its scientific mission: duty to the future and to the benefit of all humanity.

I think the mission statement should read, "To understand and protect our home planet for the benefit of all humanity; to explore the universe and search for life; to prepare for the future and to inspire the next generation of explorers."

Since President Obama is doing good work with his pen these days, perhaps he could take a moment to sign an executive order that would give us back a space agency explicitly committed to worldchanging work?

We know some folks in the new administration read this site (we're honored). We know they're very busy, but we'd like to ask them to consider moving this small simple change forward.

If you're a reader and you, too, think it's time to restore planet, humanity and the future to NASA's scientific mission, please let them know in the comments below (or suggest your own new mission statement).

Per aspera ad astra!

Image credit: NASA

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Obama admin please restore NASA's mission statement.

Also, Pres. Obama previously stated that he would remove the federal research restrictions for ESC on day 1. Why has he not done so yet?

Posted by: Rahein on 27 Jan 09

I hope this idea takes hold. It would be a very simple measure that could have a profound effect on both the way science is viewed, and the way it views itself.

Posted by: Jim Mortleman on 27 Jan 09

Since I have been thinking it's high time I removed the reference from the top of my blog, I think this is an excellent suggestion.

Here's to curious times ahead!

(See David Brin's recent post for an explanation)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 27 Jan 09

Yes please, I would love to see this happen!

Posted by: Kathleen on 27 Jan 09

Yes I also sighed and almost cried listening to Obama's speech. So nice to have a human being back inside the white house. And support to real science returning.

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Posted by: Eric on 27 Jan 09

I worked at NASA when the words "to understand and protect our home planet" were stricken from the mission statement. My whole department was horrified because of the statement it made about our stewardship role to our planet. I hope Obama directs NASA to restore those important words.

Posted by: Justine on 27 Jan 09

Restoring "To understand and protect our home planet" helps focus a massively talented and resourced group of people on problems that matter in this time of crisis for the world, best wishes from the UK.

Posted by: Richard on 27 Jan 09

Yes, yes, yes. Let's restore NASA's mission without delay.

Posted by: Sally on 28 Jan 09

Chalk up one meddling Canadian as also being in favour of this.

Posted by: Dwight Williams on 28 Jan 09

I agree. Or else all of NASA's work might become the precursor to intergalactic colonization. It would be insane to scrap a vibrant, pulsing planet Earth as other moons and planets reveal themselves to contain water molecules, heat, non-scorching be places humans might one day visit or settle. We should be sure to keep our own house clean while we push our consciousness further into space.

Posted by: Kelly Igoe on 28 Jan 09

OUTSTANDING IDEA! Just these few words can change the inspiration and actions of millions.

Posted by: Duane on 28 Jan 09

Sign it!

Posted by: Tony on 28 Jan 09

The novel challenges faced at the time were a catylist for solutions. Maybe the agency's mission could now focus on teaching awareness: the old discipline, in recognizing the earths forces that which act WITH us. Call it the Velcro paradigm...I bet that stuff came in handy on skylab.

Posted by: Nathan Trachimowicz on 28 Jan 09

I absolutely support the restoration of NASA's mission statement to include understanding and protecting our home planet, and the amendments Worldchanging suggests or something very like them would make it even better.

Posted by: John Giezentanner on 28 Jan 09

Change it!

Posted by: Eric McANly on 28 Jan 09

Yes! Please bring back the full mission statement!

Posted by: Joshua on 28 Jan 09

One small sentence from a man. A giant step for mankind!

Posted by: Rick Wendling on 28 Jan 09

What is the use of NASA's knowledge if not applied to protecting the planet we already live on?

Posted by: Franny on 29 Jan 09

I agree.

Posted by: Jeff Legato on 29 Jan 09

I completely agree that NASA's mission should include a commitment to making our own world a better place as well as exploring others. NASA is greatly under-funded and has trouble completing the set missions. This also should change. The delay of the Mars Science Laboratory is an example of the dead end where the Bush administration left NASA. I ask that this administration "restores science to its rightful place", and by doing that moves the world forward.

Posted by: Sebastian Nicholls on 29 Jan 09

Yes, I agree, great suggestion. Hope it is listened to.

Posted by: Patrick Sunter on 30 Jan 09

Why not use "To understand and protect our home planet for the benefit of all humanity," only that, as THE mission for NASA? Before we think again about exploring space, let's make sure that the planet stays hospitable to large mammals,

Posted by: Elise Hancock on 30 Jan 09

Yes i agree!

Posted by: Annie on 30 Jan 09

I am part of the humanity the mission statement should address. So please count my vote for the change even though I am not American. Thanks !

Posted by: Sayan on 30 Jan 09

This needs to be done now as the symbolic complement to the NASA policy improvements President Obama is already making. Well done, Mr. Steffen.

Posted by: JT on 31 Jan 09

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