How about NASA's Grand Challenge?

Last September the President laid out his Strategy for American Innovation. The strategy is broken into three parts:    

1.      Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation.

2.      Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship.

3.      Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities.

In the final section the President outlines eight “Grand Challenges” of the 21st Century.

The challenges are great.  I have a personal interest in the success of the first challenge to battle cancer and also like the idea of solar cells as cheap as paint or the “highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world” (can you say Babel fish).  Yet, as I read the Strategy for American Innovation I was struck with what missing from the strategy, NASA.  Other government agencies including the National Institute of Health, Department of Energy, and DARPA are mentioned but NASA is not found anywhere in the strategy.  Now I’m not going to try to comment on why NASA is not in the strategy but instead would like to propose an additional “Grand Challenge” that is worthy of American innovation and NASA expertise.

 

“Ensuring the sustainability of Life on Earth and in Space.”    For me these two are closely linked and can enable tremendous American innovation for the “benefit of all humanity.”  First of all space offers us a unique view of the Earth and allows us to understand how we are impacting the Earth’s environment.  The unique perspective from space has been focused on understanding but maybe part of ensuring sustainability of life on Earth should consider how we might help the Earth’s ecosystem from space.  I know this will sound farfetched but to help stretch your imagination, what if we used the vantage point of space to control the weather (hey, they did it in Back to the Future  J).  What if we could direct rain to drought stricken areas of the world or focus showers during the yearly fires that threaten the California coast?  Or as a friend shared recently, what if we could use position in space to decrease the eye of a hurricane?  We still have much to learn about the Earth from space, but maybe it is time to move from learning to proactive measures that are only possible from Space.

 

Secondly much is being written about the depletion of resources on the Earth, including fresh water and energy.  This same challenge is found in ensuring sustainability of life in Space.  There is no water authority in space where the astronauts can tap into for their “tang” (ok, bad pun).  Plus there is not a power grid that they plug into for their electricity.  In space we have to tap into the renewable energy from the sun and recycle the water in the International Space Station.  A grand challenge on the sustainability of life as it relates to renewable resources (beyond cheap solar cells) will have far reaching impacts to sustained human presence in space and benefit nations across the world.  For an interesting discussion on this grand challenge on the Earth side of the equation, I would recommend Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded”.  

 

Finally sustainability of life on Earth and Space requires advances in the delivery of medicine to remote locations.  In space there is not an emergency room or a 24 hour clinic that you can drive to on the weekend (I don’t know about your family but it seems that when our kids were young, they would always get sick on the weekends when the doctor’s office was closed).  We need to be able to ensure access to medical treatment as we get further and further away from the Earth.  While back on Earth there are millions who need access to medical treatment since to them the nearest hospital may seem to them like it is in Low Earth Orbit. 

 

Anyone up for a new “Grand Challenge”?

 

Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

 

52 thoughts on “How about NASA's Grand Challenge?”

  1. “Finally sustainability of life on Earth and Space requires advances in the delivery of medicine to remote locations”, i agree.

  2. NASA should be a part of “invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation.” since the U.S. government would get many other benefits as well. Not only will we be able to get more knowledge about space, it takes a lot of innovation and new ways of thinking to get there. This will create many new ideas and technological advancements which will give birth to new industries and eventually consumer goods. Some people question if NASA should get more funding but we wouldn't have invisible braces, memory foam, shoe insoles and thousands of other consumer goods if they didn't.

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  3. The research and design of a fully sustainable habitat for space could also reveal new means of delivering access to clean water for the world's 1.3 billion inhabitants.

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  4. Interesting post.

    It is true. We take all the “basics for granted that really seem simple but aren't quite so easily or readily available in space.

  5. Steven,

    I, too, was disappointed in the lack of NASA being mentioned or referred to in the great challenges. I think your grand challenge sounds like a keeper, and really should have been in the eight listed. Anyhow, with that said, I'm up for the grand challenge, and I hope the rest of this country is as well!

    -Charles

  6. Steven,

    I think you are spot on with your analysis. The sheer fact that our astronauts have to re-use everything forces NASA to devise solutions that are extremely efficient and make sure there is no waste. The lessons learned in space can be extrapolated to Earth so that we can become better stewards of our planet. We can also keep the innovation going by fostering the development of which will not only help our GPS and satellite industries but also protect our most precious resource (our kids).

  7. like WOW I had no idea all this crazy stuff was going on. I just worry about staying healthy on earth, lately I realized how good the were so I try to eat that a lot, maybe you guys should eat it in space too?

  8. “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” sometimes provokes intense . Not, perhaps, because the message is untrue… rather because the message is uncomfortable.

  9. Friedman’s ideas are often controversial. Not, I don’t think, because they’re untrue. Rather, because they’re uncomfortable.

  10. Interesting, I didn't think I was going to agree with you but you make a good case. Many people who think space exploration is a waste of money probably don't realize how it can help us here on earth.

  11. The space adventure can for sure further things on earth. I am waiting to see what comes next.

  12. Finally sustainability of life on Earth and Space requires advances in the delivery of medicine to remote locations, agree.

  13. I would say this grand challenge is going to be tough one..I see some funny lines on this article also. “THe president says” 🙂 Huh but i have to admit this challenge is a grand challenge in itself . Thanks for letting us know about this challenge.

    Rajj

  14. I think it's darn time that we invest in the building blocks of american innovation. Even though I'm late on this, this is good news. Very good news for the space program!

  15. I like what you said about using the resources from the sun for energy when in space. I wonder when we're going to figure that out here on earth!

  16. I like what you were saying about american innovation. What people need to realize is that american innovation is tied at the hip with NASA because most of the technology that we see today in our everyday lives actually came from the experiments and testing that was done at NASA.

  17. NASA is not mentioned in their strategy because people right now are too worried about our own economy, as much as I disagree with that, I think that's the case.

  18. I have always been a supporter and admirer of the work that NASA does. I would think it should be given more priority if we are really want to expand our technological horizons. You make several good points to support this in your post.
    For example viewing the Earth from space has indeed given us a greater understanding of our own environment. (We never would have discovered the ozone hole if not for NASA).

    Also, as you say. if we really want to look into alternative energies such as solar power, it would be foolish not to allow for more NASA funding. Indeed, the agency uses alternative energy forms to a huge extent, and is in a prime possition (given propper support) to advance energy technology.

    Finally, in the more distant future space travel and colonization could be essential as resource scarcity becomes more of an issue here on Earth.

    Dan

  19. I have admired NASA for their fantastic achievements. With new discoveries like water on moon our space research is definitely going beyond anyone's expectations. That being said I truly believe that depletion of Earth should be the primary concern.
    After all if we can't save our own planet what is the point is going outer space?

  20. “I know this will sound far-fetched but to help stretch your imagination, what if we used the vantage point of space to control the weather (hey, they did it in Back to the Future J).”

    You're broaching on a very serious subject here. If we can control weather, can we control nature? Earthquakes (Haiti), Tsunamis (Indonesia), and Hurricanes (Katrine: Louisiana)

    It's an important point to broach: Man v. Nature?
    Space: The Final Frontier?

  21. Well said! By the way I agree that the ability to have access to first rate medical care is crucial.

    From
    Maverick J.

  22. What do you think about the Presidents plan on reducing NASA's budget and redirecting funds to the private sector?

  23. It seems like the NASA space program is being dismantled
    and I am not pleased with this horrendous development!
    We must not let the Administration “gut” the space program!

  24. Access to medical treatment even if you're situated in a remote location must really be achieved. So many lives have already been lost due to inadequacy of proper medical treatment in places such as the outer space.

    Cheers,

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  28. NASA is not mentioned in their strategy because people right now are too worried about our own economy, as much as I disagree with that, I think that's the case.

  29. I think that this a great idea: ” Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation”.
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  30. I most especially agree on strategy # 3. The ability to use all the scientific breakthroughs to achieve national goals is totally essential. We need to make sure that the ideas conceptualized by some of our nation's great minds will always be put into great use.

    John Robison of

  31. I'm looking forward to the success of all those parts! Now's the time for America to rise up once again and take advantage of its highly skilled population!

    Cheers,

    Teresa of

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  33. I agree with life sustainability on Earth and Space! What is Earth and Space anyway if it is not teeming with life anymore?

    Thanks,

    Jake of

  34. Hi! Access to medical treatment even if you’re situated in a remote location must really be achieved. So many lives have already been lost due to inadequacy of proper medical treatment in places such as the outer space. Thanks for sharing informative information.
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