Today (as I post this) is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the
Enough meandering. Change is inevitable and comes increasingly quickly. There are plenty of news stories or sociological papers about how quickly change is accelerating in our times. How can we possibly cope with such huge and rapid change, they all ask.
Interesting, then, to contemplate the changes that occurred between Washington and Lincoln. Was there any change to speak of?
To answer that question I would offer up a short selection which is more thoughtful than anything I could write on my own.
The following is an excerpt from “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose. The book is about the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-6
Pay careful attention to the sentence which describes the biggest obstacle to change being that of a closed mind.
“It seemed unlikely that one nation could govern an entire continent. The distances were just too great. A critical fact in the world of 1801 was that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. No human being, no manufactured item, no bushel of wheat, no side of beef (or any beef on the hoof, for that matter), no letter, no information, no idea, order, or instruction of any kind moved faster. Nothing ever had moved any faster, and, as far as
And except on a racetrack, no horse moved very fast. Road conditions in the
To the west, beyond the mountains, there were no roads at all, only trails. To move men or mail from the
People took it for granted that things would always be this way. The idea of progress based on technological improvements or mechanics, the notion of a power source other than muscle, falling water, or wind, was utterly alien to virtually every American. Writing in the last decade of the nineteenth century about conditions in the year of Jefferson’s inaugural, Henry Adams observed that “great as were the material obstacles in the path of the
Since the birth of civilization there had been almost no changes in commerce or transportation. Americans lived in a free and democratic society, he first in the world since ancient
But only sixty years later, when Abraham Lincoln took the Oath of Office as the sixteenth president of the United States, Americans could move bulky items in great quantity farther in an hour than Americans of 1801 could do in a day, whether by land (twenty five miles per hour on the railroads) or water (ten miles an hour upstream on a steamboat). This great leap forward in transportation – a factor of twenty or more – in so short a space of time must be reckoned as the greatest and most unexpected revolution of all – except for another technological revolution, the transmitting of information. In Jefferson’s day, it took six weeks to move information from the Mississippi River to
Time and distance, mountains and rivers meant something entirely different to Thomas Jefferson from what they meant to Abraham Lincoln.”
So with change inevitable and accelerating, our economic health depends on our innovation and flexibility to provide new products and services in the future; some of which are not even conceived in the public mind today.
NASA has long been an agent of innovation, and there is ample documentation of new products, services, companies, and entire sectors of the economy that were spun off or at least advanced by what we do. For that reason alone, NASA is a good investment for the country.
It is incredibly important to be innovative and that is why we must look to the best practices to encourage innovation and the development of ideas into productive parts of our economy.