WHY Your Knowledge Is Needed

The Challenge Facing NASA (and You)

"The modern roots of America's great scientific establishment go back no further than a half century. Science in this country really has no organized constituency except itself. In a curious way, it created itself; there were no huge lobbies, no street demonstrations, no sit-ins, no strikes, no political blackmail. No small part of the scientific establishment's growth has been in super-secret weapons and related research. In short, the public knows little about its size, operating methods or even its direct benefits, except in the case of a few highly visible aspects such as the space program, medical research and programs that capture the public's fancy - astronomy and dinosaur research, for instance. Big science has thrived in America largely through the enlightenment of a few policy-makers.

"With a small natural constituency, no spare cash, feeble organization and little experience in the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics, science is justifiably worried that it is now playing a losing game. At the same time, it is beginning to understand that a big part of the problem is an inability to get its message across to the public."

- Reprinted from the Introduction in Worlds Apart: How the Distance
Between Science and Journalism Threatens America's Future
(p. viii)

Notwithstanding the special status assigned the space program in this piece, NASA faces precisely the same challenge when it comes to articulating the importance of its science missions to everyday life. Indeed, to many everyday people NASA itself is the ethereal domain of highly trained professionals with "the right stuff." This gut-level conclusion is a forty-year-old relic of the last time the Space Program captured the attention of the entire world at a deeply personal level. Today's reality is that people feel disconnected from what NASA science does, due in part to "an inability to get its message across to the public."

Ironically, this "right stuff" conclusion is simply not true. NASA, like any other successful enterprise, is made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. True, NASA is rocket scientists and astronauts . . . and so much more. A closer look reveals that it is a rich microcosm of American society. Yes, it has scientists and engineers, but it also has business managers, food service workers, lawyers, electricians, accountants, secretaries, police officers, etc. - each with an important role, each with a community of "colleagues" outside the Agency, and each with stories to tell that potentially can bring NASA back to Earth.

For a start regarding the issues involved in the public understanding of science, we recommend you first:


Questions or comments? Contact: fort@mail.utexas.edu

Last Modified: Mon Aug 23, 2004