But How Many People Noticed?
After being hit with a series
of setbacks over the past several years -- from the loss of three
robotic spacecraft from 1999 to 2004, to the 2003 Columbia tragedy
-- NASA has rebounded considerably in the past year. The past seven
days, in particular, have seen several noteworthy achievements and
stories that have kept the space agency in the news... and for all
the right reasons.
On Sunday, agency physicist John Mather was awarded the
prestigious Nobel Prize for physics. Mather works at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He shares the prize with
George Smoot of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for
uncovering evidence that helped nail down the big bang theory of
The Associated Press reports the two men based their finding on
data from a NASA satellite.
Mather's win came one day after the spectacular nighttime launch of the
shuttle Discovery (below), on a mission that so
far appears to be going perfectly to plan.
On December 7, the White House announced the selection of
microbiologist Joshua Lederberg for the Presidential Medal of
Freedom. Lederberg has served as an advisor to the agency in its
search for extraterrestrial life.
Last Wednesday, NASA revealed photos taken from the now-defunct
Mars Global Surveyor that appear to support the agency's long-held
belief that water still flows on Mars --
albeit in limited periods.
One week ago, NASA unveiled its plans for a establishing a lunar base by
2020. The agency has already seen interest from the
Russian and European space agencies to help support that goal.
When asked whether NASA has ever enjoyed a week where it had as
many accomplishments to tout, public affairs official David Mould
replied "July 1969 comes to mind." That, of course, is the week
NASA first landed on the moon.
The comparison doesn't match up completely, though. While
Americans were glued to their televisions in 1969 to watch the moon
landing, many of NASA's accomplishments for the past week have
passed with little fanfare.
"It's a terrific week for NASA," said Syracuse University
professor W. Henry Lambright. "I think the only reason it isn't
better recognized is that everything in public policy is
overshadowed by Iraq."