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Space and cities.

"A Tale of Two Cities" begins with the often quoted line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" I am often reminded of that line when dealing with the gamut of large and small issues facing NASA.

When we dare to do great things and succeed, it is the best of times. But we also experience great difficulties along the way, and these difficulties are part of the challenge of space exploration.

The work we do at NASA is hard. It really is rocket science, and it requires dedicated and talented people at agency field centers across the nation who fuel discovery throughout the solar system, and innovation and economic competitiveness at home.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia for example, NASA's Langley Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility generate $1.2 billion in economic output and 12,000 high-skilled jobs each year. In Texas, NASA awarded $4.4 billion in grants and contracts to companies and universities in fiscal year 2005. Houston's Johnson Space Center alone employs some 26,000 contractors and civil servants. Colorado has more than 164,000 space-industry-related jobs in the private sector.

And three NASA centers in California provide more than 8,300 on-site jobs (and additional employment to contractors) in places like Moffett Field (the Ames Research Center), Edwards (the Dryden Flight Research Center) and Pasadena (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Should Congress appropriate the President's budget request level for fiscal year 2008, the total budget for these three centers would be approximately $2.2 billion.

Those investments have secondary effects as well, since space program technologies are used in homes and hospitals throughout the nation. The improved descendants of monitors used to track astronaut heartbeats in the 1960s are used in intensive care units and heart rehabilitation wards. Hospitals also use safety standards that NASA developed for oxygen regulators. Those standards have not only reduced risks in hospitals, they also have lessened the deaths of fire fighters from faulty oxygen regulators.

In homes, NASA-inspired cordless power tools have made jobs easier. Glasses don't scratch as easily and bulbs don't burn as much energy thanks to NASA technologies. Foods are safer and water is cleaner. Weather forecasts are better too. The benefits are there: every day and in countless ways.

But the benefits of space exploration go deeper than the development of consumer products. NASA's real benefits go to the core of who we are--of what sort of people we hope to be.

While important, we do not go into space for the spinoff technologies. Rather, we choose to explore for reasons like curiosity and competitiveness, boldness and monument building. They aren't immediately logical, but are intuitive and emotionally compelling nonetheless. Explorers and monument builders are motivated by such reasons. So were our forefathers.

The Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic for reasons like liberty and the desire to build a better world. They suffered terribly, for the new continent was a harsh and unforgiving place. Yet they learned, they grew, and eventually they prospered. Their descendants created a new form of government and built a great nation.

The cathedral builders of an earlier era spent their years and dedicated their fortunes to the construction of structures that many of them never lived to see. Yet the civil engineering techniques they developed to construct those cathedrals were used to build Western civilization. And their achievements awe us even today.

Similarly, space projects satisfy our desire to compete in a safe and productive manner. They speak to our sense of curiosity; of wonder and awe of the unknown. They address our sense of monument building, of leaving something behind for future generations to see and know that our time was well spent. They demand our greatest efforts and inspire us to our highest achievements.

As we once again reach out and explore beyond the Earth's orbit, we're picking up from where our ancestors left off. We're opening new worlds of possibility, and creating better cities and better societies as we do so.

Space exploration is not easy. There will continue to be hardship along the way. But perseverance in the face of such hardship makes us a great people and a great country, and I am confident that will be as true tomorrow as it has been in the past.

Michael D. Griffin is administrator of NASA.
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Title Annotation:National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Author:Griffin, Michael D.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 23, 2007
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