Excerpt from a debate on Yammer about the relevance of NASA. Credit: engineer K. Sanner.
Honestly, what you are asking for requires embracing a liberal education in America at an early age. America embraces a liberal education at the university level, but is perfectly comfortable with half the population being educated just well enough to be employed at a skilled trade. To then expect that half of the population to suddenly abondon their dogmatic approach to life and values, which ensure social stability, harmony and easy consensus is expecting too much of them. One brilliant lecture by Neil Tyson is not going to bring enlightenment to millions of Americans and make us realize we need to strive for understanding the universe around us. “Of course” we should be greater than we are, and we should constantly strive to learn more about who we are and the world around us. “Of course” the value in this is enormous, as it would make our civlization greater, and increase the level of humanity we could achieve and leave to all of humanity in the future. But, I say “Of course” because this is an obvious value system to me. To many millions of our voting public, the people we work for, their value system has an abrupt eclipse at the end of a traditional dogmatic doctrine they have accepted as a complete and final value system that needs no refinement, adjustment, updating, or change. How can we possibly convince that population in America that humanity needs to rise to a higher level and that there is value in exploration and discovery worth spending money on to do this versus more natinal security? I think it is a change that will require a generation of commitment to teaching a liberal education to children, and that is not the direction our political leaders want our public education system to take. This is beyond the scope of NASA. We can always preach to the choir, but I don’t expect any sudden enlightenment in the public to occur because of our publications and presentations that are so great they change our national priorities. The first great American accomplishments of the space age occurred because we appealed on a political level to beat the communist Russians. The next great level of accomplishments in human space flight will probably occur because we will appeal on on a political level to beat the communist Chinese. I wish it were otherwise. But, there is a minority of opinion in our country that learning for its own sake, understanding the world around us, accomplishing great engineering feats, developing new technologies and making scientific discoveries without obvious commercial application has great and significant value to us individually, culturally, nationally, and to all of our humanity that should be a gift to the whole world. Join your school board if you have time and fight for a liberal education in your school. Bring it up to your state legislators. Maybe, in a generation, there will be a significant shift in our value system as a country, and we will achieve these great things for their own sake, and for the sake of humanity in the future.