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If you like Daniel Goldin's story, you might also like:
John Mather,
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Sally Ride,
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Daniel Goldin
Daniel Goldin
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Daniel Goldin Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Space Exploration

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  Daniel Goldin

How do you deal with adversity and with criticism?

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Daniel Goldin: God only knows I have my fair share because we're dealing with the public funds and the public trust. This is a democracy and, for a number of years, NASA did not have the votes for some of its key projects. We vote every year on the space station. I tell our employees, "Don't be upset. This is democracy." You've got to be willing to openly deal with criticism. I don't think there's ever been a time when I've testified before Congress -- even with a lot of intensity and criticism coming at me personally -- that I've ever reacted. I always stayed on the subject. I try and keep myself very level when I interact with people as part of the democratic process. That's absolutely crucial. We've had failures. We've had spacecraft fail, and I had to sit across that long green table and hear about it. But I don't tell them what I think they want to hear. I tell them the way it is. There are people who are critical of me, but they respect me because I stick to my guns. They can disagree with me in terms of the policy, but I never back off of the basic principles I deal with.

The stress is enormous, I had no idea. I've gained 30 pounds. I'm not working out. I eat from nervousness to suppress some of this emotion, because for the most part I hold it down. Basically, I'm a volatile person. E very minute of I've got to manage my emotional control. Some people are born to be level. I fight every day of my life to be level, and I'm not allowed the luxury of blowing up, but occasionally I do. I'm not allowed the luxury of getting depressed, which I very rarely do because if people are counting on you, you've got to be level. It's a battle for me every day. From when I wake up until I go to sleep, I'm battling this fire inside my belly. I try not to make things personal, and there's always the temptation. The American people don't care about the personal issue of who said what to whom or how do I feel or why am I angry. They want a space program that costs less and does more for their children and themselves. They want to be inspired. They don't care if the NASA Administrator is angry at a member of Congress.

What do you say to those who argue, "We've been to the moon. Why go to Mars? We have problems on Earth we have to solve."

Daniel Goldin: In the time of Christopher Columbus, they had rats and scurvy. They had disease. Go to any point in history, and you will find they had health problems. They had agricultural problems. They had human problems. So to say that as the human species we're only here to consume and survive, is not adequate. Any country, any group of people, any human being that draws in on themselves and goes into that mode, ultimately dies. America is a vibrant country. It was formed in violence, but it had a dream and it always follows that dream and has a vision. Part of the responsibility that we have as adults is to explore the unknown.

Exploration could take a whole variety of forms. It could be studying the evolution of life. It could be studying inner space to understand the structure of matter. It could be going to Mars. But the only way you make progress is doing things that have never been done before and push the boundaries. Take on tasks that make your head hurt. Take on tasks that are so difficult there's a 50/50 chance you're going to fail. We know, as a society, every time we operate that way we make progress.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

That's what life's about. The cave man picked up a burning stick and singed his fingers. That was progress. So it's not an adequate answer to say I'm not going to explore because I want to add a thousandth of a percent of the gross domestic product to battle something that's going to be there. In fact, when we explore, we find all sorts of things. There's a cornucopia that comes back to us, but we can't say what it's going to be. We wouldn't even be approaching the thought of a cure for cancer today if we didn't explore.

We wouldn't have jet travel today if we didn't explore. Hundreds of people lost their lives flying these crazy planes. We called it the X1 and the X2 and the X3. Why did they do it? People were dying of disease and we had social problems in the '40s and the '50s, but we all like to ride in jet planes because it brings us closer together. Space is something that's visible. It's dangerous. We know that there's danger, but we can't shirk away from it. If we intend to be a society that's going to be rich for our children, we've got to explore.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Take a look at the budget of the United States of America, and take a look at the budget for corporations. Corporations project two to four years ahead, and if they go much beyond that, they are rightfully criticized. So who's left to do this? The federal government. If the federal government doesn't explore the unknown, what hope is there for our children? The lion's share of the federal dollar is spent solving near term problems. The constituents who need the results of the exploration are the ones who don't get to vote for it. So we must explore, not just to get Tang and Velcro and tech transfer. We've got to explore inner space to understand the formation of matte, and we've got to explore outer space. It's an imperative for a vibrant society. It's imperative that our children understand that we don't just talk about their future and hope and opportunity, but we show them that we're doing it. We had three quarters of a million hits on our Internet web site when we landed on Mars. I'll bet you a lot of that was from the young people. We talk about the children, but we've got to show them that we care.

What would you say to a young person who came to you for advice? "Should I get into the space business?"

Daniel Goldin: I'd give them general advice. I'd say, "Have a dream. Burn it into your brain. Take time and figure out what it is, but then hold onto it. There will be people who will tell you with certainty what can't be done. There are critics all over the place. They can critique the creation of others, and sound really smart, because they don't have to create. "

When President Jefferson proposed the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Daniel Webster said on the floor of the Senate, "Why explore west of the Mississippi? It's a barren wasteland." He knew with certainty what couldn't be done. So I tell young people, "Figure out what you want to do, and then put a figurative steel I-beam in your back. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Don't chase after money because you'll never get enough of it. Have a meaningful philosophy of life and you will succeed. And, by the way, in most cases the money will follow, but that's not important." That's what I tell them. "And, if you happen to be a scientist, stay a scientist." Many of our scientists go take management classes and want to become big administrators and managers, and that's okay, but we need scientists.

As you look ahead to the 21st century, what do you think is the biggest challenge awaiting us?

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Daniel Goldin: Education. We are not doing a good job. We're not getting to the souls of our children. Some children watch more hours of TV than the number of hours they go to school. Think about it. They don't read books. When you read a book your mind develops visions and shapes. When you read a book you learn about other people. You don't think in sound bites. It expands the mind. It tests the mind.

American children are falling farther and farther behind in the ability to understand science and math, at a time when technology is dominating the future vitality of our society for economics, for health, for sustainable development. Now I'm not saying everyone has to be a mathematician or a scientist to be a good citizen. But twenty years from now, these children born today, are going to need technology and math and science just to conduct their lives, even if they don't choose that path. I view this as a crisis for our country. And we cannot just talk about it. We can't just delegate it to government and pay a teacher. Adults and young adults have to involve themselves in the schools. Some children don't get touched more than once a day. They don't even get touched. They see their teacher and that's it. We need to do an incredible amount to fix this.

This is the issue that's going to determine where America will be in 20 years. You ask people where America's going to be in 20 years, and they say, "We're going to be vital and robust. But if you say, "Who's responsible," you get a lot of harrumphing. That responsibility belongs to every human being in this country who has the ability to communicate with young people. We can do it right or we can do it wrong, but we've got to get to the hearts and minds of these young people and help them understand what's ahead.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 13:15 EDT
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