With the almost gleeful round-the-clock coverage of DrunkAstroGate unfolding last weekend, the casual viewer could be forgiven for missing the NASA stories that actually matter. Here's how I distinguish them from what's passing for news: these angles are fundamental to the functioning of the agency, and even the health of the planet, which is more than I can say for a vodka or two too many on the Soyuz.
Not that astronauts should be flying drunk, but I'd like to see more reporters focus on these three NASA angles instead:
Not that NASA is focusing on that. Or cable news. Kind of makes you want to take a drink and hitch a flight off this rock.
Before we do either, consider this oddity in the coverage of the drunken astronaut fiasco: Several reports talked about how NASA has only been in the news for scandalous behavior, since that other astronaut went an on ill-fated mission to track down a romantic rival earlier this year.
What ever happened to the Mars rovers, a phenomenal success that succeeded all expectations? Those little robots exemplify what is absolutely right about NASA: Ingenious engineering that extends our reach to the far ends of the solar system in pursuit of knowledge. In this case, the data about a watery past on Mars provides new insights into the possibilities of life on planets other than our own. The names of these two rovers neatly summarize NASA at its best: Spirit and Opportunity.
We should be using those words to describe NASA's earth science program as well.
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