For Aron: Don't Panic

>> Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Aron asked: [I read this article]. How bad is this? Should I worry? What can I do to increase public support of space?

It's not. You shouldn't. It's perfectly predictable. Encourage people to watch Avatar.


Lots of reasons, not the least of which is that it's changed 20-30 points (depending on the question, both up AND down) in the last year. Since space programs are part of a long-haul deal, no one should give a snapshot in time too much credence.

Well, you also shouldn't worry because, with the economy in the toilet, people are all for shutting down businesses that cut down jobs - as long as they're not their own. Ironically, about the worst thing to do at this junction is to cut more jobs, nor is reducing the pool of jobs for the scientifically and engineering inclined smart for the future of the country. But people don't see it that way. They're afraid of the deficit (and the deficit we're looking at is pretty scary); however, money spent on jobs does a great deal more to help against the recession than paying banks so they can distribute them to their top numbskulls by the million dollar handful.

However, part of it is also that NASA isn't exactly blowing anyone's skirt up with visible fabulousness at the moment. Even the community that should all be singing the same tune on space exploration is torn because of some serious concerns with the current path. And part of that is that the path and goals aren't agreed upon or even clear to all involved. Certainly not to the public.

Additionally, there are many who are thinking, what with the recent Falcon launches and some other commercial contenders, that private industry might take us back to greatness if NASA isn't up to it. I'm not sure if they will. The incentives are still pretty sketchy and I'm not entirely convinced all of the contenders are aware of what they're really up against. I'd love to be wrong, though.

People still want space; they're just not sure our path right now is the right one. Well, I can see that. I wish I could say I'm confident we're on the right path myself. I do think Bolden is good for the agency and I'm sure Obama understands that a strong NASA supports his own goals of increasing our science and technology base and our economy. But it's a hard road under the best of circumstances and, right now, it's not.

That might very well change. The economic climate could improve. NASA could do something spectacular. Truth is, no one wants to be sitting on their hands as China, Russian India, ESA and Japan trip the light fantastic. And possibly commercial interests. NASA, or another incarnation, will survive and we will be part of it. Truthfully, I tend to think of "all mankind" when it comes to space. I also think that the more baskets we spread our eggs in, the better chance we have of success. I want the US to be a big part of it, but I know someone will be doing it even if we get too caught up in our other priorities to do it right here, right now. And that's what matters in the long run.

Right now, reminding people why space is worth pursuing is the best way to keep up support. And Avatar is the best way I know (though some disagree). I read an article today that expressed, exactly, just why it affected me so completely, why I never had a bit of trouble with seeing it as pro-science. Check it out. For me, it's a reminder of why I got into science in the first place.

Hope that helps.


  • Jeff King

    It has helped me, and i didn't even ask the question.

    that's why i love coming here, find out info i didn't even know i wanted to know...


  • flit

    Avatar was AWESOME ....I agree that everyone should watch it.

    The people that don't like it interest me as makes them uncomfortable for a reason, I think...and that is a good thing too.

  • Stephanie B

    flit, you make an interesting point. By a strange coincidence, the NYT had an interesting article on THAT point as well today.

    All kinds of groups are criticizing the film for being (usually not all at the same time) anti monotheism, anti-American, anti-imperialism, anti-war, anti-blind greed, anti-female (are you KIDDING me? The argument is that the female Na'Vi are not as muscular as the men. Rolls eyes), anti-technology (say what?), anti-science (same reaction), anti-China, and, I saw just this morning, an example of eco-terrorism. Yes, I do think it's anti-greed and an argument for preserving our environment, but some of this stuff, honestly.

    *Slaps head

    Because nothing says eco-terrorism like defending yourself when you are attacked by people with big guns.

    Some complain it's derivative of other important stories instead of just realizing that so many stories have that theme because it's played out (often with a less satisfying ending) dozens if not hundreds of times in history.

    Some say it's shallow and has no meaning.

    If so, why are so many people caught up in it, either because they loved it, because it moved them or because they hate it and "what it represents"?

    Given the thought I've seen put into reasons why some people dislike it, and the vehement reasons why I (and some others I know) love it, given the flurry of discussions going on (the kind one didn't see for successful stories like Pirates of the Carribean - which I also liked), I think it had to mean something.

    If a movie makes you think and or feel deeply, perhaps both, how bad can it be?

    Having said all that, I think it captures exactly what inspires many people about space, finding new worlds, not to own them or tear them apart for their resources but to learn more and experience what we've never experienced before. Which is why I put the recommendation here.

  • Aron Sora

    You know, you gave me an idea for s study. I'm going to get a bunch of people who haven't watched avatar yet, take them to the movie and measure their opinion of NASA and space exploration before and after. We also have the new Hubble movie coming out, maybe that will spark more interest in space.

    If you are right, a clear statement from the president giving NASA a mission might reignite the public.

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