Buzz Aldrin famously said that “The biggest benefit of Apollo was the inspiration it gave to a growing generation to get into science and aerospace.” So who’s doing the inspiring now? Aldrin’s still out there, and there’s the national multi-national space agencies of course: NASA, Roscosmos, the ESA, CNSA (China National Space Administration), JAXA, ISRO and others.
In recent times there’s been inspirational individuals such as Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan: author of more than 600 scientific papers and 20 books. He co-wrote the original Cosmos series, was on the review committee for Project Blue Book, and was heavily involved in devising the explanatory plaques on some of the early deep space probes. In later years he advocated for an organized watch on near-Earth objects. He died in 1996. The Mars Pathfinder landing site was named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in his honor, and there’s an asteroid called “2709 Sagan”.
One other thing Sagan did was to co-found the Planetary Society.
Current Planetary Society CEO is Bill Nye: former TV presenter, engineer, comedian and bow-tie enthusiast. Through his TV work Bill has no doubt inspired many children with the joys of science. But he’s a busy guy. His science interests range far and wide into many fields from desalination to evolution. But is he inspirational to anyone over the age of 7? Bill has fallen victim to the well-known curse of the early childhood teacher and constantly falls into the “I’m talking to little kids” persona.Sorry Bill, but you’re just plain goofy. I can’t take anything that you say seriously. Carl Sagan had scientific and philosophical authority; Nye has his bow ties. With a kids-TV host as CEO is the Planetary Society getting what it needs to inspire people to support the space program? And even then Nye seems to have precious little time for the Planetary Society anyway. His last blog for the Society was in June 2014: four paragraphs which merely served to introduce quotes from an article he’d written for another magazine. And before that: a blog about a children’s event.
Has Nye given staff instructions to act goofy as well? Go to their video section and you find more goofy rubbish:
Combine Bill Nye the bow-tie guy with their lame marketing efforts and their relentless spam begging for more money and you have an organization that in its PR efforts seems more annoying than inspirational. Even the Planetary Society “shop” just leads to a Zazzle store where the first T-shirt displayed is a space shuttle! Is this the best the Society can do? The whole organization needs a shake-up starting with a new CEO. And in case you’re wondering, yes I am a member. But they make it tough to stay that way.
Perhaps Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page said it best. About halfway through this article Page says that rather than leave his fortune to some cause it might be better with Elon Musk and his plan to “back up humanity on Mars”. Second link
SpaceX certainly has its fan base. Rightly so – and I’m one. Musk is the greatest modern example of inspirational and intelligent leadership. No other corporate or political leader comes close. And the attitude seems to trickle down into all aspects of the organization. To pick the mst trivial example possible: order from the SpaceX online store and you’ll get the order incredibly fast, with all the products made in the US. When good leadership carries from the boardroom to the shopfloor there’s something more happening than just ordinary governance.