Friday, May 18, 2007

Priorities for NASA and others

In a recent article in Wired Magazine (June 2007) by Gregg Easterbrook proposed the following set of rational priorities for NASA, in descending order of importance:
  1. Conduct research, particularly environmental research, on the Earth, the Sun, and Venus (the most Earth like planet)
  2. Locate asteroids and comets that might strike Earth, and devise a practical means for deflecting them
  3. Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe
  4. Figure our a way to replace today's chemical rockets with a much cheaper way to reach Earth orbit.
Sounds like a very rational set of priorities to me. But here, according to the article, are NASA's current priorities:
  1. Maintain a pointless space station
  2. Build a pointless "Motel 6" on the moon.
  3. Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe
  4. Keep money flowing to favored aerospace contractors and congressional districts
That's only 1 for 4 in getting the right priorities, and the two most important ones are missing. One of the key aspects of leadership is the ability to set the right priorities, since you can never do everything you want. One of the key failures of the current national administration, as illustrated in the above lists, is the inability to properly set a reasonable set of rational priorities.

With that in mind, I can't help adding my own following list of what our national priorities should be in terms of addressing the biggest threats from rogue states and terrorists groups:
  1. Al-Queda
  2. North Korea
  3. Islamic revolution in a nuclear armed Pakistan
  4. The "loose nukes problem" in Russia
  5. Iran
  6. Iraq
Guess where the vast majority of our effort and resources is focused? Talk about a good illustration of the problems that arise from not setting reasonable rational priorities...

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