A Perfect World III: Goldin

A Perfect World III

Daniel Goldin

Daniel Goldin served as chief administrator of NASA for nine years, beginning in 1992. Using the motto, "better, cheaper, faster," he streamlined and restructured major programs. He pulled NASA out of its Cold War mentality and promoted cooperative endeavors, including the International Space Station with the Russian Space Agency. Other NASA successes during Goldin’s tenure included the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and the successful launch of the Mars Pathfinder mission.

I hope for a world in which we have come to our senses, and children do not have to live in fear of weapons of mass destruction. Fear causes deviant behavior.

"I don’t know that it relates to what I said, but I do know what I want to draw. I would say the last time I did this was maybe in kindergarten or first grade. There’s the final frontier! There’s the ocean, there’s the land (The brown represents the land). And at the center of our own planet, there’s the hot core. Now here’s a rocket with a nice rocket trail. These are supposed to be the suns, and I put lots of planets around them. Now these are very happy planets, because they don’t have any responsibility. I want to show that there are loads of other worlds out there, dead worlds and live worlds. As people left Europe to come to a new world, as they left Polynesia to populate the Pacific, there was opportunity. I’d like to know that there’s opportunity out there, too. And I’d like future children to be able to take that trip and open the frontier to create opportunities. And then we continue the expansion. That is my philosophy of life." -Dan Goldin, former NASA Administrator
Credit: Goldin, © Trione, Andrews McMeel Publishing, [ copyright 2002, reprinted with picture by permission]

The next thing I wish for is a society in which gender and cultures and race do not cause the dashing of hopes for young people. I’d like opportunity not to know bounds by race, or culture, or gender.

The third thing I hope for is that the young people of this country will always be able to have the same dreams and hopes that I had in the 1950s. That was a decade of incredible excitement in this country. Parents knew their children would have a better life than they did; children knew there were tremendous possibilities for them. There seemed to be no limits, no stops.

And finally, in this perfect world, the driving force for all of this will be unbelievable technological achievements that will allow people to live healthier, fuller lives with economic opportunity — technologies that provide energy and products of economic value without consuming valuable resources or spewing poisons into the air. Sustainable development is the term I prefer.

There are two cultures in the world, those who look up and those who look down. Those who look down know with certainty what can’t be done. Those who look down know that there’s only disaster ahead. I’m one who looks up, and I believe that this human species is going to perpetuate itself through space. Ultimately we’re going to leave planet Earth.

I’ll tell you a story. I went to my daughter’s class when she was in the second or third grade, to talk to them about how the solar system formed, how the planets formed, how life began. And then I told them that the sun was going to burn out in about five billion years. And the children who looked up got hysterical! Now that is the ultimate in positive attitude! They were running around crying, "The sun’s going to burn out. Oh my God."

Now, the point is, nothing is given forever. Clearly belief in God and religion enter into this, and I can’t give you the intersection between theology and science. But what I can tell you is that this human species is going to leave this planet and explore the heavens. There’s no doubt in my mind. It’s our ultimate fate. The human species needs new frontiers.

It’s very hard being lonely. We all, at some point in our lives, have had these debates in our head — some more so than others. I know in my case I struggle a lot with God and my belief in God and the reason for life. And I’d like to know that there are other life forms, even if they’re just bacteria. I don’t need little green men.

If there were no other life forms, it would be like being completely alone. I don’t know how many billions and trillions of planets there are. But if in this entire universe (and there’s some belief that there may be other universes, too), but if in billions of bodies, there’s only one place where there’s life… if it’s God’s will, so be it. But it would be nice to believe that there’s life elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine that life has taken place on just this one planetary body, which has a finite life measured in geological time. It would be nice to know that life is ubiquitous. It’s a necessity for an optimist.

I can’t speak to what might be God’s will. I don’t know. But I once went hiking with four or five of my friends, and we got up to the top of the mountain, Mt. Whitney, really early — two or three in the afternoon. So everyone went to sleep. I said, "You’re crazy, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and be uncomfortable." So I went away from them, and by myself I watched the sun set and the moon and stars come out. And then I had a really scary experience. I started shivering. As I lay there, I thought about the vastness of space and time and here I am on this little, itsy-bitsy spot for a flash in time. Earth has been here 4.6 billion years, and I don’t know how many more billions of years it’s going to exist, and I’m here for this short time span. So I got scared. I looked out into the vastness of space and said, "What is the meaning of life?" I need God to help me understand this. It was very scary. And then I also thought about how important it would be to know that life could take shape in other places, too, so that we won’t be alone. So there’s hope.

Author Profile: Debra Trione began work on "A Perfect World" in 1997 after serving on the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. During the 1980s she worked at Harvard University Press and as an editor at Harvard Medical School.

Trione reflects on her interview with Goldin in the prologue of her book: "Before I talk about what vital new things these interviews and images add to the public record (more than to document, for instance, that this country is currently being run by some really bad artists), I want to first mention that collecting this material was often a laugh-out-loud hoot. I remember, for instance, that Daniel Goldin, then chief administrator of NASA, was so energized by the painting assignment that he kept leaping up from his chair during our session. This would have been fine, except that my tiny tape recorder was attached by a wire to a microphone clipped to his collar. Every time Goldin blasted skyward, the recorder would sail off the table into the great beyond, so that more than once I had to jump up to snatch it back. This may have fully terrified me then, but it seems quite funny to me now."

Related Web Pages

A Perfect World I: Tyson
A Perfect World II: Richardson
A Perfect World III: Goldin
A Perfect World IV: Venter
A Perfect World V: Hendricks
A Perfect World VI: Fuller
A Perfect World : Booksite
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