Greatness or mediocrity?

Author:Griffin, Michael D.
Position:An executive view
 
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NASA is bringing space capabilities to bear to improve people's lives and even to save lives, but it will take far more than NASA funding to open up the new, exciting opportunities we hope to continue finding when we explore and exploit the vantage point of space.

NASA has formed a strategic partnership with the founders of Google to carry out various scientific endeavors, like the Google Moon mapping software, the use of their Gulfstream V to carry out scientific missions such as the campaign to monitor the meteor showers and supporting Google's offer of a prize purse of up to $30 million for the first privately funded and developed lander/rover to touch down successfully on the Moon and carry out various experiments.

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I also hope to open up the International Space Station as a National Laboratory to commercial ventures with pharmaceutical companies. My hope is that more people will be able to experience and benefit from space exploration and scientific discovery, and even make a profit from it. That is the American way. Likewise, it is also my hope that NASA will be able to spur on and leverage the capabilities that the commercial sector builds and be able to harness the improved intellectual capabilities coming from our nation's universities and high school students.

This is important. It matters greatly to our nation's future. That is why, along with other members of Congress, I am gravely concerned when I read statistics about how, on average, U.S. students are lagging behind their counterparts in other countries in their knowledge of math and science. According to a recent report which measures the skills of 15-year-olds in math and science across 30 industrialized nations, American students are trailing many potential competitors, and sometimes trailing badly. On average, U.S. students placed below standards in science, well behind Japan and Korea, but also trailing Ireland and Iceland. American 15-year-olds did even worse in math, trailing many nations in Asia and Europe.

These troubling trends were best explored by a recent report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" by the National Academy of Engineering. One of the first paragraphs in the report captured the situation well, so I will quote it at length:

"Having reviewed the trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership...

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