“There is no escaping our obligations: our moral obligations as a wise leader and good neighbor in the interdependent community of free nations…”
– John F. Kennedy, Nov. 3, 1961 in establishing the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
I have often expressed the strong belief that the technology developed for space exploration and the research conducted in space can make huge contributions toward solving many of the problems facing our planet. Beginning tomorrow, I will act on that belief and go “on loan” to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While there, I will help apply space technology to the challenges facing the developing world.
President Kennedy’s landmark speech at Rice University a little more than 51 years ago shifted the U.S. space program into high gear. “We Choose To Go To The Moon” became the mantra that set our nation on a peaceful path of space exploration and scientific achievement for the betterment of all humanity. A few weeks after the Rice speech, and with the same spirit of progress and innovation that would propel humans to the moon, President Kennedy established USAID to help lift millions out of poverty, alleviate suffering and advance the foreign policy interests of our nation.
Today, NASA and its international partners continue to build on both legacies. The International Space Station is a premier and unique research facility that operates around the clock to improve life on Earth, while it orbits our planet 16 times a day. The research conducted aboard the space station simply cannot be duplicated anywhere on Earth and is leading to new materials, new medicines, a better understanding of the human body, environmental issues facing our planet and much more.
USAID seeks to “extend a helping hand to those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster or striving to live in a free and democratic country.” It has embarked on an ambitious agenda that aims to change the way it does business, with by establishing new partnerships, emphasizing innovation and focusing relentlessly on results. This agenda provides the opportunity to transform USAID and unleash its full potential to achieve high-impact development. I’m looking forward to being part of the team that implements these new changes as we strive to more effectively help improve the lives of others.
NASA and USAID already collaborate on significant programs to apply scientific and technological solutions to challenges facing millions around the world. My role will be to help USAID establish a broad applied research program and to act as program manager for USAID’s participation in the Unity Node project.
The Applied Research Program seeks to find innovative ways to advance technology development and to apply new technologies to development challenges. The Unity Node project seeks to build a universal open source collaborative platform that humanitarian organizations around the world can use to work together toward their common goals.
USAID’s goals are ambitious: protecting human rights, improving global health, advancing food security and agriculture, improving environmental sustainability, furthering education, helping societies prevent and recover from conflicts, and providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural and man-made disasters.
NASA research and experience will greatly help USAID achieve its ambitious goals. I am excited to be a part of both teams, where I’ll be able to help fulfill NASA’s mission of bettering life on Earth by working with USAID to give it practical application in the developing world. By combining expertise from NASA and USAID, we will help meet even more sustainable development challenges on the ground, solving problems for the world community.
I recently had the opportunity to fly what could be my last flight in a T-38 jet for a while. As I flew a few laps around the Gulf of Mexico, I remembered my last moments aboard the International Space Station before Andrey Borisenko, Sasha Samokutyaev, and I flew a few laps around our planet prior to returning to our Fragile Oasis. I felt then, and I feel now, that I’m completing one chapter of my life and about to begin a new one. It’s an exciting moment, and I can’t wait to see first-hand the results of applying space technology to development challenges.