Tackling Significant Challenges

“When you change the way you look at things, the things we look at change.” Wayne Dyer

Space programs help the White House tackle the most significant challenges facing the country. Just to name a few, the mission to planet Earth, our next economy, and America’s imperiled reputation rank high on the list.

Mission to Planet Earth

Space offers an unparalleled vantage point for viewing Earth. Only by backing away from our planet can we truly see our nebulous life and how closely related we are. This perspective is critical if we are to understand enough about Earth to make good policy decisions on the ground. The space-based measurements that revolutionized weather prediction are just the tip of the Earth system science iceberg. Only from space can we obtain the global data we need to unravel the mysteries of our home planet.

For example, it was satellite data that discovered the ozone hole in the 1980s. Satellite data are currently showing us how fast the Arctic sea ice is melting. We monitor pollution globally to improve air quality in our urban areas. And we are developing a better knowledge of how the climate works, thanks to satellite measurements showing how much sunlight penetrates the clouds and hits Earth, and how much heat leaves it. Clouds may hold the clue to how to manage climate change in the coming century.

Mission to Planet Earth is more than a science program, it impacts every learning space. This mission helps to decide how we will live—and what footprint we will leave for future generations. It provides the knowledge we need to make decisions, ranging from international policy to national laws, from state and local planning to business strategies.

Our Next Economy

Since the turn of the century, political leaders and prominent economists have described the problem of America’s economy as a loss of manufacturing jobs. This conclusion is understandable. The last century’s economy built itself off a growing middle class through well-paid manufacturing jobs. The middle class, in turn, could afford to buy the marvelous products of those factories—cars, televisions, washing machines—and they flew with the modern new airplanes in previously unimaginable numbers.

Yet that economy no longer drives America’s prosperity; manufacturing knowledge is now widely available. We have been transitioning to a new economy, a sea change that rivals the last century’s transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. Today we find ourselves competing with many other nations. Manufacturing expertise, once the purview of so-called developed countries, is now widespread—particularly in Asia and South America. To regain our competitive leadership, we need to build our economy on something new, using a quality and degree of expertise no other nation has obtained. What could that new economic engine be? And are we capable of creating it? We have a brilliant precedent: the flying machine.

Just as we built the aircraft industry and the air transportation market that literally rose from it, we can do the same with low-cost space transportation. There is no doubt that it will be a driving force for the rest of this century. Inexpensive, reusable space vehicles will carry unprecedented amounts of cargo into low Earth orbit; carry passengers from one continent to the next in under two hours; build manufacturing facilities and commercial laboratories in microgravity environments; and, eventually, mine the treasures of asteroids beyond Mars. While some of this may sound far-fetched, imagine how someone in 1900 would respond to predictions of low-cost air travel, of air cargo, of the Boeing 747 and its cocktail lounges in the sky. Already, investors are betting billions in private capital on an equally brilliant space future. America has a natural advantage—and a big head start. To foster the next great, tech-driven economy,  government and the private sector must work together with their combined efforts focused by our civil space program. All of this depends upon the Martians in our classrooms and equipping Gen Mars for the future they will ultimately create.

America’s Imperiled Reputation

Over the last 100 years, brave Americans on the battlefield and industrious citizens back home played a major role in making the world’s citizens more free, secure, and prosperous. For most of that time, most of the world viewed us as—mostly—a force for good. Now we have another battle to fight. It’s one in which the enemy has new psychological advantages. Despots and fanatics paint a picture of America as intent on exploiting others for its own power and wealth. Our answer has been mostly military, with boots on the ground and drone strikes from the air, all with good reason. Yet we must not forget the wisdom of President Kennedy, who understood that we needed to win both the war and the argument. Persuasion, through demonstration of universally valued attributes, must supplement our military force. Kennedy knew that he couldn’t impose our capitalist system on other nations. He envisioned the Moonshots as a way to prove the superiority of the American Way without using force.

The secret of Apollo: we shared it. Our President announced to the world a seemingly impossible goal, and then we openly communicated both our progress and our setbacks with people around the world. When we succeeded, we won more than a race against the Soviets. We won the hearts of countless individuals and national leaders, globally, without firing a gun.

This powerful tool of international influence is still available if we choose to use it. But it must be awe-inspiring.


  1. The third line of this post states, “Only by backing away from our planet can we truly see.” Think about this concept in relation to our education system. What are we too close to that is preventing us from making needed breakthroughs in order to move education forward? What can we do to step back and get a fresh perspective?

  2. Along the same lines, Wayne Dyer is credited with saying, “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” How does looking at the landscape of the future workplace through the lenses of the future of our students change the way we “do” education?

  3. Our education system is tied closely to industry; first to agriculture, then to manufacturing, now to technology. In the future, we will continue to build on this technology as we explore Space. We have hardly scraped the surface in keeping up with accelerating technologies.  Dell Technologies predicts that 85% of the jobs in 2030 haven't been created yet. What steps do we need to make in order to ensure that our students are prepared for unknown jobs, on and off of our planet?

  4. Legacy thinking is holding us back in education, as well as in other institutions. We can't slow down technological developments nor can we ignore them. How do we future-proof education so that we are ready to absorb the changes?