NASA Facebook fans are a chatty bunch. We post something of interest going on at NASA. Fans talk about it. They like it. They dislike it. They have an idea for how to change it. But, for the most part, they’re supportive of our efforts. It is, after all, a “fan” page.
Lately I’ve noticed a few unhappy folks who post little “This is a waste of time” zingers. I really find it fascinating. If the information we’re posting is a waste of their time, why do they spend time on the NASA fan page?
I’m intrigued by the “waste of time” mentality.
Ok, I admit it. I’ve had similar thoughts about meetings or work products I considered a waste of my time. After all, I work for Uncle Sam…Big Brother…the Feds. I find I’m most frustrated when my time is expended against my will. I wouldn’t dream of posting my time-waster list…well, maybe I might.
Back to the point. When someone writes “This is a waste of time” on NASA’s Facebook wall about the Timbuktu image above, I have to wonder…as compared to what? Their frame of reference would be so telling. Wouldn’t it? For instance:
- Reading a book is a waste of time when you could be fishing.
- Fishing is a waste of time when you could be working.
- Working is such a waste of time when you could be spending time with family.
- Family time is such a waste when you could be traveling.
- Traveling is such a waste of time when you could be volunteering.
- Volunteering is such a waste of time when you could be making money to donate.
Look at the context in these examples. One choice is pitted against another. We tend to do that, don’t we?
Don’t we make judgments about choices others make based on our own value-based choices?
Here’s what I notice: we humans often expect others to share our views and values. If they don’t, we like to cast them as our enemy. We’re good. They’re bad. That simple.
But really, it’s not simple at all. Just because I value something doesn’t mean you have to value it too. Yes, I’d LOVE everyone to agree with me on EVERYthing. But, I’m no less valid in my choices or opinions than you are in yours. (You’re probably shaking your head right now, thinking how I’m idealistic and unrealistic I am. You won’t be the first to think it.) Hear what I’m saying.
Life is all about balance.
We each bring to the table different and unique attributes for the greater whole. Synergy! The same goes for NASA. So, let’s explore how the federal government works, shall we?
Civics 101: The government exists to provide the public good. We fill the gap between:
- the needs of the common man, and
- profitably ventures attractive to commercial entities.
The pursuit of knowledge (i.e. NASA endeavors or basic science) isn’t profitable. But once we pursue the unknown, gain knowledge, and share what we’ve learned, THEN the opportunity exists for someone to take it and run all the way to the bank.
For instance, what we’re learning about humans existing in long-duration space onboard Space Station may help address the debilitating effects of osteoporosis on here on Earth. A drug company MAY use this information to manufacture and sell an “antidote” to brittle bones. Yay for them!
We discover knowledge that leads to a product that meets a need someone is willing to pay for. Or, IF the need is worthy and a commercial entity can’t make a profit, we’re back to the government providing it. The cycle circles back on itself.
Society = balance of public good + commerce.
In reality, the argument boils down to managing the appropriate balance among the nations’ priorities to best bring about public good.
Civics 101, Part 2: The White House and Congress determine the nation’s priorities.
- The White House sets the agenda, and
- Congress holds the purse strings.
NASA receives less than 1% of the federal budget. Even if I do say so myself, we accomplish aMAZing feats with that partial penny on every dollar given us by Congress.
What can YOU do with less than a penny?
So back to the question, is space a waste? Again I ask: as compared to what?
Personally, I feel the time and energy I spend exploring unknown places or books or foods or experiences is never wasted. Every time I learn something new, I know more than I did the moment before. Even when the experiences are painful, I’m still wiser than before. Can that knowledge ever be wasted?
What if I share what I learned with you, and it:
- saves you time,
- streamlines your effort,
- prevents harm, or
- gives you insight on places or people you’ll never see?
What we discover at NASA changes textbooks! Generations upon generations of humans will benefit from the sacrifice our nation made to fund the space program, in an effort to learn what we don’t know. In the meantime, our government also took care of housing for the homeless, education for students, subsidies for farmers, benefits for veterans, security of our borders, and so much more. We can debate the balance of funds distributed, but it was ALL in an effort to bring about the public good…as determined by the White House and Congress.
Civics 101, Part 3: Citizens, if you disagree with how your tax dollars are spent, you speak loudest through your right to vote (as opposed to a fan page on the internet).
In the meantime, I’ll see you on Facebook!
Crosspost on openNASA.