Thursday, October 25, 2007

NASA Rocks!

The shuttle Discovery docked with the ISS this morning, and while it's not the main point of the mission or anything, I think it's cool that both of the now-joined spacecraft are commanded by women, shuttle commander Pamela Melroy and ISS commander Peggy Whitson.

While human space flight like this is NASA's most visible activity, and some of its robotic spacecraft (Mars Rovers, Hubble, Cassini) are quite well known, NASA does a lot of other great stuff too. A case in point is this story about how a NASA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called Ikhana is using its sensitive thermal imaging sensors to monitor and send back false-color temperature mapping imagery of the wild fires in southern California. The imagery is processed on board and sent in real time to a ground station for integration with Google maps (example here) that managers can use to better plan their fire fighting strategy. The research UAV monitored seven different fires in its first 10 hour flight yesterday, making multiple 30 minute passes to track the fires' progress.

NASA gets a lot of flak. It's a government agency with a lot of missions and a lot of people, and sometimes they make mistakes and bad decisions. They could probably do a lot of things better (me too). But on the whole, I think NASA has to be the best use of any 0.58% (1/172) of the Federal budget that we are funding with our tax dollars. I mentioned this to a colleague at work yesterday, and he was shocked that this is such a small figure. He thought they got maybe "a few percent" (that was true for only for a couple of years in the late sixties Apollo period).

On the whole, I have to say, NASA rocks.

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