In addition to marking the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, this week also marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope -- the first of NASA's four "great observatories" launched to observe the heavens from the heavens. (The other three are the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was deorbited in 2000, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, both of which are still working).
Hubble, of course, is the best-known of the four, since it collects data in the visual range of light waves, giving us the spectacular Eagle Nebula starbirth photos, the Deep Field image of thousands of galaxies hidden in a tiny dark point of space, and a multitude of other awe-inspiring glimpses of the universe beyond our physical reach.
But the Hubble also represents a rare collision of worlds far closer to home, within NASA itself. Because for 20 years, it has been one of the only NASA programs to merge the human space flight side of NASA with the agency's scientific and robotic space flight contingent. The Hubble itself is a scientific instrument that does its work remotely, like any other scientific satellite. But unlike almost all other satellites, it was hand-launched by astronauts from the bay of the Space Shuttle and has been repaired by human astronauts no fewer than five times.
So in the highly segmented world of NASA, is the Hubble a triumph and justification for human space flight? Or proof that we can be equally thrilled, excited and humbled by our robotic explorations in space...and proof of how much more we can learn from non-human voyages and missions?
Dr. Story Musgrave has a unique perspective on the question, because he is, on the one hand, one of the most experienced and longest-serving astronauts in NASA's human space flight program, a veteran of six space missions over the course of a 30-year career. But he also worked on the development of the Hubble from 1975 onward and was one of the lead astronauts on the famous 1993 Hubble repair mission that corrected several early problems with the telescope, including a serious flaw in its primary mirror. And in an interview I did with him in anticipation of the Hubble anniversary, he was very clear about what he thinks NASA's priorities should be.
"Thank God they decided [the Hubble] needed to be fixable by people, because there were 13 early failures, which means you had problems in the basic design, materials, or quality," he said. "But the non-human program is more important to me than the human program."
Why? Because Hubble, Voyager, and other non-human satellites can reach further, address far more complex questions, and therefore have a far more inspiring and significant impact.
"I think [the Hubble] is as good a reason for being in space as there is," Musgrave says. "It's not a very powerful machine, but people are massively excited about it because it's a mirror for who they are. The whole thing about Hubble is, it gets after two existential questions. It doesn't answer them, and those questions will never be answered, but they are: What is the meaning, and what is the hope, of life here on Earth? Hubble is symbolic for a knowledge machine that is potentially able to link cosmology, theology, philosophy and astronomy. It is able to hold a mirror to humanity -- the kind of mirror that says 'What kind of universe is it, and what is our place in it? Who are we, and who should we be?'"
In contrast, Musgrave is sharply critical of the International Space Station, which he calls a "$100 billion mistake."
"[The Space Station] does nothing for nobody and it never has," he says. "The cost of space station is 300 Voyager-class satellites. We could have had multiple Voyagers landed or floating in the atmosphere on every planet and on every moon of every planet. That is what we gave up when we went with a jobs program, which is what the space station is. And that's an ungodly sin. And yes, I'm a human space flight person, but listen to me. That's what we could have offered the public."
But what about the inspiration that the astronaut program offers school children and the public at large? Musgrave scoffs. "If you sent multi-media robotic machines [into space], people would be unbelievably excited about going everywhere out there. And we could have gone everywhere. But we opted to stay in low earth orbit and do a jobs program because we had no imagination."
So what should NASA do next? Would Musgrave have NASA cancel the human space flight program entirely, when the Shuttles retire? Not completely. But he argues that NASA's segmentation into human and non-human space flight is a crippling division that needs to end.
"What needs to be done is to combine the robotic program with the human program. The programs should have been the same all along," he says, "and they should have served one another. I think human space flight needs to be put in partial hibernation. You continue to develop the capability, but send the robots first. They not only are there first to mine materials and show you how to live off the land, they themselves, in their exploration, would raise the question: do we need to send humans and, if so, where do we send them? The robots would pave the way, and answer your questions along the way. But that's not what NASA's doing. We're still talking 'the human program.'"
In that light, how does Musgrave view President Obama's new space policy? He's critical -- but not for the usual reasons people put forth about the importance of NASA centers for jobs, human space flight, the Moon, or Mars. He has concerns about building redundant capability if the commercial sector has to build its own launch and mission control facilities, as well as concerns about the safety and viability of a commercial space effort. "There has never been any money to be made in space except for commercial satellites," he notes, adding that private efforts to master space flight have not fared particularly well, in terms of safety and success, over the years.
But his big critique of Obama's policy is that it lacks what he considers two essential elements for success: specific vision, and a solid project management approach. To Musgrave, the specific goal is unimportant -- there are valid and inspirational reasons we could go back to the Moon, or to an asteroid, or send satellites to other planets or into deep space. All of which could help pave the way for future exploration, answer additional questions about the universe, and help develop "game-changing technologies."
But to achieve any of those things, he said, you have to take the approach NASA made famous in the 1960s, and which successful business program managers implement every day. "You say, here's what I want, here's when I need it, here's the approach, here's the requirement," Musgrave explains. "You put a Statement of Work out there, and you get the most creative people working on it, and you take the best ideas that come from that. That's project management. It's the way you drive new technology. And that's the way you DO something. We're no longer at the point where you do technology for technology's sake and then figure out how to apply it."
Musgrave is not a young man, and he's well aware of the obstacles to effecting change in an organization that involves as many Congressional interests and individual fiefdoms as NASA does. He understands Congressional resistance to any changes that might affect jobs back home, as well as how entrenched the different camps at NASA are. Indeed, he says it's a "valid question" whether the operational structure and approach of NASA could even be changed at this point without disbanding the organization as it now stands and rebuilding a new research institution from scratch.
But Musgrave believes it still could happen. "If you have a strong enough leader with an artistic vision of where we go next," he says, "the public is going to get behind it. Congress is not going to give you a good space program. You have to create it and sell it to the public, and the public forces it to happen. And you've got to do that in terms of good project management with a specific and achievable goal and a specific timeline, like we did in the 1960s." Even if, he says, the goal has to be less costly, because the funds are more precious now.
I've written six books for NASA and conducted hundreds of interviews with NASA managers, astronauts, employees, researchers, scientists and contractors in the course of researching those and other writing projects. And while the issues, choices, and challenges are complex, many of Musgrave's thoughts and critiques resonate with what I've heard from other sources. In any event, it's food for thought, as the Hubble marks 20 years in space, and we start looking at what and where we explore next, and how we go about it.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 1,100 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.)
Today was the latest installment of the never-ending Clinton scandal saga, but it won’t be the last. Yet in some ways, the specifics are a distraction. The sale of access was designed into the post-2001 Clinton family finances from the start. Probably nobody will ever prove that this quid led to that quo … but there’s about a quarter-billion-dollar of quid heaped in plain sight and an equally impressive pile of quo, and it’s all been visible for years to anyone who cared to notice. As Jonathan Chait, who is no right-wing noise-machine operator, complained: “The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.”
“All of this amounts to diddly-squat,” pronounced long-time Clinton associate James Carville when news broke that Hillary Clinton had erased huge numbers of emails. That may not be true: If any of the conduct in question proves illegal, destroying relevant records may also have run afoul of the law.
Four hours after learning about Saturday's devastating earthquake in Nepal, I received a Facebook notification I had never seen before: Sonia, a journalist friend based in northern India, was "marked safe." An hour later, the same notification about a different friend popped up. Then another. Soon, several of my friends wrote that they, too, had learned via this strange new notification that their friends in Nepal were okay.
A few hours later, the mystery was solved. On Saturday afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his timeline that the notifications came from Safety Check, a service the company launched last fall. "When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe," he wrote, "It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters."
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a prime-time interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how they shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his gender identity.
During the interview, Sawyer made a conspicuous point of discussing broadly unfamiliar ideas about gender and sexuality to its audience. It didn't always go smoothly; her questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf. But she showed no lack of empathy.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
Our patient—we’ll call him W.B.—is a 56-year-old father of three who, until last year, had always been healthy. He had worked his entire life, in jobs ranging from automotive repair to sales, taking great pride in providing for his family, even though doing so had recently meant combining three part-time positions. All of that ended in February 2014, when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness, ALS leads to the loss of all voluntary movement, difficulty breathing, and, in the end, death.
W.B.’s life was turned upside down by the diagnosis. But once the initial shock passed, he began researching his condition intensively. He learned that he was unlikely to survive five years, and that in the meantime his quality of life would diminish dramatically. With limited options, many patients retreat. But, quite bravely, W.B. had other ideas. After much consideration, he decided that if he was going to die, he would like to try to save another person’s life in the process, even if that person was a stranger. And so last May he approached the University of Wisconsin’s transplant program, where we are surgeons, as a prospective organ donor.
When healthcare is at its best, hospitals are four-star hotels, and nurses, personal butlers at the ready—at least, that’s how many hospitals seem to interpret a government mandate.
When Department of Health and Human Services administrators decided to base 30 percent of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement on patient satisfaction survey scores, they likely figured that transparency and accountability would improve healthcare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials wrote, rather reasonably, “Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care requires us to carefully consider the patient’s experience in the hospital inpatient setting.” They probably had no idea that their methods could end up indirectly harming patients.
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.