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If you like Daniel Goldin's story, you might also like:
John Mather,
Story Musgrave,
Sally Ride,
Alan Shepard,
Donna Shirley,
Clyde Tombaugh
and Chuck Yeager

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Daniel Goldin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
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Daniel Goldin
 
Daniel Goldin
Profile of Daniel Goldin Biography of Daniel Goldin Interview with Daniel Goldin Daniel Goldin Photo Gallery

Daniel Goldin Interview (page: 6 / 6)

Space Exploration

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  Daniel Goldin

Are there any books that you would recommend to young people, anything you think they should read?

Daniel Goldin: Anything! Read about people. Read about great discoveries. Read about science. Read about stars. Read about actors. Read about art. Read about geography. Read prolifically. It's wonderful. Read magazines. Read books. Read newspapers. Young people don't read newspapers. They get the news in sound bites. You need to have the basic data to make your own decisions. You don't need a newscaster to tell you what's important or not important. You don't need an editorial writer to tell you what's right or wrong. You've got to have the experience of exploration. So I say to young people, "Read. Involve yourself in the happenings in the world. Don't be a spectator. Get onto this wonderful stage we call life and interact."

What do you think are the most important documents of this century?

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Daniel Goldin: The document that ended the second World War. That was a horrible, horrible event. The Space Act of 1958 - an incredible document. It's a statement of the will of the people to open the heavens. I admit I'm a little biased. Anything that was done or written that brought people away from the brink of war. The twentieth century was a bloody one. We did awful things as human beings. I did, too. I designed weapons. It was necessary. I won't apologize for it. I believe I did the right thing. Anything we could do to back the world away from the brink of mass destruction is important. If we have to have a military, that's important.

Anything that was written to help us back away from conflict and educate people -- in substance, not just in style -- is an important document, so our children don't have to go through air raid drills, so our children don't have to be worried about being poisoned by bacteria or chemicals. There are many more important documents that have to be written because there are still bad people in this world.

Is there something you haven't done that you want to do?

Daniel Goldin: I'd like to travel in a leisurely fashion, to spend time in places around our own country to just get to know people. When I graduated college, I didn't even have a graduation. I took my last final on a Friday morning, this cold February morning in New York. I walked across Amsterdam Avenue with my classmates. We went to a bar. We all had a drink, and toasted each other. We knew we were never going to see each other again. I went home and packed and went out west to Cleveland, Ohio. That Sunday I went to work. I've worked ever since. I'm driven. I haven't taken time to get to know people. Now I know there's more to this country. People have wonderful wisdom. Occasionally I'll sit on a plane for three or four hours talking to someone. I don't tell them my position in life. We just talk as fellow human beings, and there's tremendous wisdom there. So I'd like to spend time just going to a town and staying there a while and getting to meet people and talking to them. I'd like to travel overseas and meet people. I've been programmed to work since February of 1962, and I'd like to have time just to get to know people.

You've spoken so eloquently about the importance of exploration. Are there places on this planet you'd like to explore?

Daniel Goldin: The South Pole, I'd like to go there. Antarctica, absolutely. We might learn much about the origins of life there. There's an isolated lake there called Lake Vostok that's millions of years old, untouched by our atmosphere. It's part of the Antarctic ice shelf. I don't know what's in that lake. If --no, when --we drop an aquabot through that ice, I'd like to be there. That simulates a mission we're going to have to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. We found a frozen ice crust over this moon and we think there's a liquid water ocean underneath. I don't know if I could ever get to Europa. The radiation level is too high, but we're going to put a submarine through miles of ice on Europa and it will melt through that ice. If there's an ocean there and it turns on its lights, God only knows what we're going to see! So I'll get some sense of that in Lake Vostok in the Antarctic.

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Do you ever think that there is something that can't be done? Do you ever feel like giving up on something?

Daniel Goldin: Never, never, never, never. You can't. You can't give up on people and you can't give up on ideas unless it's proved conclusively that you've gone down the wrong path. I've had failures, and when I've had a failure I'm perfectly willing to accept that failure, but all I'll do is dust myself off and keep charging. You can never stop. Never, never. You can never feel sorry for yourself. You've got to keep going.

What's been the hardest part of your career? What's been the toughest thing to take?

Daniel Goldin: Ignorance, intolerance, special agendas. I swallow hard and ignore it and move forward. When I see bright people with the public trust try to utilize public funds for an agenda of their own, it gives me problems.

Something you brought to NASA for the first time was the need for cultural diversity. Can you say something about that?

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Daniel Goldin: The space program belongs to the American people. It doesn't belong to the NASA Administrator. It doesn't belong to the wonderful scientists and engineers who work there. It doesn't belong to the President or the Congress. It is the will of the American people to explore. The space program needs to reflect America because, in its diversity, America obtains its richness.

When people think of the space program, we think of white males, because we see their images in all these Apollo movies, and we think these are the only scientists and engineers and astronauts. There were women who were eligible to be astronauts during Apollo, and NASA said, "We're not going to fly women. Women can't go into space." But it's this melting pot -- women and men working together, people from different countries who have different cultures and different understandings -- that makes the richness that we call America. With the exception of the original natives, who brought another richness. None of us could say we could do it exclusively.

When I got to NASA, the people in the space program weren't bad, but they had these images in their heads of who ought to work at NASA, who ought to manage NASA, because they grew up with it. Those were images of middle-aged white males. It wasn't discrimination. I don't believe that they were doing it maliciously, but NASA has to look like the American people. You don't put someone into a job because they're white or black or yellow, but you have to cast the net widely. You can't just promote someone because of a list of things they worked on. If someone is old enough to fog a mirror, should they be eligible to do something? You have to look at the potential within people. You have to look at the richness that people bring to the task, how they interact with other human beings, what's their intelligence, what's their ability to create, and run a level playing field with fair and open competition.

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
You know what's amazing? The best always get the job. All of a sudden the complexion of the space corps, of the astronaut corps, is changing. We have more and more women. Thirty years ago women were not allowed in the astronauts corps. We now have a woman commander of the shuttle, Eileen Collins. I'll stack her up against anyone, she won it on merit. We have black faces and brown faces and yellow faces and red faces, and NASA is beginning to look more and more like America.

But we have a problem. The pipeline is not full in all dimensions. It's sad that, if you take a look at the number of Ph.D.'s in the physical sciences in America and African-Americans are well below their representation in the population. Hispanic Americans are well below. Are our colleges casting the net widely enough? In America we have an obligation to our children. At birth, there's new life, there's hope and joy and expectation, no matter where it is, it could be in the middle of a slum. We can't let that candle get snuffed out because someone's born black or brown. A lot of people talk about it, but are they doing what's necessary to cast the net widely so that every child at one year, five years, ten years, 15 years, 20 years, believes in their heart that there's hope and opportunity, that they can go as far as they can go?

This is what's important. Because NASA is so visible, we've got to look like America, and we're still not there. If black children don't see someone who looks like them and speaks like them who has achieved as a scientist, if they only see entertainment figures and sports figures, what message does that send to them about their opportunities in life? So at NASA we have more of an obligation. We've got to do what it takes to fill that pipeline. I hope that everyone who says we don't need affirmative action is ready to stand up and commit themselves and cast the net and not use buzzwords. I'm a little emotional, because this too is a crisis.

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
In 40 years, white males are going to be only 20 percent of the population. Who are going to be the scientists and doctors and engineers? Who are going to be the teachers and the care givers if our children are dropping out of school because they have a different color skin or they come from another country? Forget about social reasons, if Americans start to care for and educate all our children, if only for that reason alone, we'll have tremendous opportunity.

How do you define the American dream?

Daniel Goldin: Anyone, from the moment they're born, should be able to go as far as their abilities and dreams take them. That's the American dream. When my daughters were born, I sat there and I looked at this miracle of life, and there was no doubt in my mind that my daughters would achieve whatever they wanted to achieve. The American dream has to be broader than that. It has to mean that when a black or a brown child is born, and that parent looks at that child with all their love, they believe and expect that that child will go as far as their innate skills will take them and their dreams will take them. We are not there yet. We talk about it, but we've got to do it.

It has been an inspiration talking with you. Thank you very much.

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