Even the Janitors Knew
It’s been said that you could ask any janitor on a NASA property in the 1960’s, “Why are you mopping the floors?” His response, “To put a man on the moon.” If you asked, “How does that put a man on the moon?” His answer, “scientists need a sterile environment to work. I mop the floors so they can work to put a man on the moon.” Not just the janitors either, you could ask any employee. They were all doing different jobs, but all were doing it for the same reason.
So, they not only knew what they were doing, but why they were doing it. When scientists saw that even the janitors took pride in their work for the same reason they did, they were encouraged to work harder to succeed. They’d sacrifice more and worked smarter. NASA had one central objective that every employee could understand. Everyone focused on the one shared goal that united them and that led to the greatest accomplishment in Human history.
NASA had a singleness of purpose that every American could also understand. Get to the moon. Do it by the end of the 60’s, and bring the astronauts back alive. The details of how they achieved those goals were up to them, not Congress. They had a crystal-clear objective that freed NASA to try any possible approach that might work. They built an alternate future than would otherwise have been.
NASA again, needs a singleness of purpose unencumbered by the whims of Presidents and Congress. As in all exploration, the greatest benefit to Humanity occurs only after ordinary people follow seeking a better life for themselves. We have begun to explore space, now it is time to learn to live in space and harvest its’ unlimited resources.
The greatest period of innovation, increase in gross national product and personal income occurred during the build up to and the execution of the Apollo missions. NASA can again be the engine of another such period of prosperity if given a central purpose that every employee and every American can understand and a budget equivalent to the same percentage of the National budget that it enjoyed during the Apollo years.
Value of People in Space
If your only interest in space exploration is the academic knowledge learned, then Humans might as well sit in their armchairs and watch it on TV. As in all missions of exploration in the past, the greatest benefit to Humanity as a whole occurred only after ordinary people followed in the footsteps of the explorers. After Columbus discovered the Americas', what would the World be like if no one had left Europe to seek a better life in the New World. What if no one followed Lewis and Clark into the western territories.
We don't need people present to study space and the planets because our sensors are much more able than our senses. But if we want the same type of Civilization changing paradigms achieved by other great exploration expeditions, ordinary people will have to move to outer space to live, work and play. In coming to the New World there was the promise of vast new resources, that could provide a better life for those willing to work for it. The same is now true for space which offers the promise of almost unlimited resources, for those willing to work to harvest them.
Perhaps NASA's next central theme should be the development of the Earth-Moon economic zone by building O'Neill style space habitats around the Moon fueled by resources brought up from the Moon by a space elevator. The Space Elevator can be built with materials available today. Mining, refining, manufacturing and power generation could be done in space to help relieve the stress on the Earth's environment.
Communicating NASA’s Vision
NASA's Vision, Mission, and Strategic direction is too convoluted and complex to be communicated effectively. Perhaps something a little more direct like. "NASA will support efforts to help Humanity become a space-faring race through exploration, commercialization and colonization of our solar system and beyond. Since the development of space resources offers long term answers to most of Humanity’s most pressing concerns, we will support research to find an affordable, reliable and safe access to space in order to develop these resources to improve the lives of all, and to protect the environment in which we live."
Work With Others
There are times when it is appropriate to work with others, when all concerned share the same vision and a time when NASA will need to lead to show others the direction. Consensus with every space capable country about space projects will be hard to achieve, so work with those who are moving in the same direction as NASA, but don't be afraid to move alone when you are sure it is the right path.
Commercial Space Development
As in the great exploration expeditions of the past, Governments usually led the way, but it fell to commercial enterprise to develop the lands and resources opened by exploration. NASA should encourage private space development as much as possible.