Every once and awhile, we all need to be reminded about why we are here and why we do what we do. A few weeks ago, the NASA Open Government team visited the football stadium at Rice University to take some time out of all the things we are working on to do just that. While sitting on the 40-yard line, near the spot where JFK gave his historic “We Choose the Moon” speech, we collectively took turns re-reading those historic words.
We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.
The words struck a chord with us all. The simple exercise of reading Kennedy’s speech with a group so committed to changing the world, and knowing that there really are ways to contribute to that legacy, was sobering.
If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.
That day served as a reminder about why we have all committed our lives to public service, to advancing space exploration, in pursuit of making the world a better place - for reasons much bigger then ourselves.
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
JFK inspired the nation in 1962, which is 50 years ago this September 12th. As we prepare to celebrate the upcoming anniversary, we intentionally reflected on what his words mean to us today and asked ourselves some challenging questions. When JFK said “We will do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” what does that mean to us? What is the modern corollary? Is it something we are committed to?
This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.
For me, this is what Open Government at NASA is all about. Open Government is critical to truly fulfilling our Agency’s mission. It’s more then just embracing the latest technology, or even diligently working to improve the way we do business inside government. It’s at the core of everything we do. It’s ultimately about envisioning a future that is so different than today that you are literally laughed out of the room when first mentioning it. For this very reason, we often talk about what the end goal of Open Government looks like amongst friends, close friends. But in a moment of full transparency, let me share one potential future state with you. We truly envision an agency that is “open by default.” This applies to everything we do. When we write a new contract or award a grant, we share the data by default. When we write new code, it’s open source by default. When we institute a new program or project, its participatory by default. When we work, it’s collaborative by default. Of course there will always be things that an Agency does that it cannot immediately make “open”, but we believe these things are much more the exception then the norm at NASA.
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.
We know that this is very different then the Agency we work at today – and even talking about being so open, transparency, participatory and collaborative makes many around us very uneasy. We know that there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles that must be overcome that require unlimited patience and persistence. We know that a vision like this sets us firmly in the minority and that the odds against achieving something like this not in our favor. We know that we will always be working too fast for comfort inside the agency and not fast enough for those on the outside.
This is exactly why we believe what we are doing in terms of Open Government at NASA is potentially one of the greatest missions the agency has ever undertaken.
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
We hope you will consider joining us.