NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati reminded me so eloquently yesterday about what is so powerful about what we do here at NASA.
The iconic success of NASA is planted firmly on three foundational elements: innovation, inspiration, and integrity. While innovation and inspiration are visible through our endeavors and successes, it is our integrity – how we work, and our commitment to excellence and openness – that earns us the trust of the public and ensures our continued ability to inspire and innovate. Integrity is woven throughout the fabric of NASA. It has always been there. And each and every day, we recommit ourselves to keeping it there.
(You can read more about the Agency’s framework for scientific integrity here.)
Innovation is what NASA is known for. Every day we are asking new questions and solving problems in new ways. We are encouraging innovation internally and building innovative communities externally, incubating technologies that are deeply committed to making a better world. We are developing innovative partnerships all the time to encourage cross-pollination of research and ideas.
Almost all of us have wondered about life beyond Earth or dreamt of flying in space at some point in our lives; inspiration is the part that seems to come so easily. Who isn’t inspired by this? Or this? Or this? NASA gives us perspective on our planet – and on what it means to be human – every single day. Every time I watch brave explorers suit up and climb onto a rocket to go to space, like I did just this week, I get excited again about what is and can be possible.
Integrity, however, is the commitment we make every single day. Integrity is doing the hard work of putting things into the light – documenting ideas, insuring safety, working through processes, truly engaging citizens. It’s what allows crewmembers to “strap themselves to a few million pounds of explosives and trusting that everything will work as planned.” Sometimes it means asking hard questions about our own issues. Integrity is insuring that not just the crew but the public can trust what is behind the decisions we are making – and committing to appropriately share that information with them. The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as amended, stipulates that NASA shall “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” And as the policy notes: unless a determination is made that public dissemination of information must be prohibited or restricted, NASA information is made available to the public. (NPR 2200.2, Section 4.5.1)
I fully believe that this is why openness is so important at NASA as we stay focused on such an important mission. As Dr. Abdalati notes, our “awareness of the freedoms and responsibilities [that integrity requires] will help us continue to pursue new knowledge, fuel wonder, and make groundbreaking discoveries about the universe and our place in it.” It is also why we continue to engage citizens, pressing forward with open source policy development, building an effective platform for open data, accelerating effective technologies, and strengthening the open communities here across NASA.
It is a commitment that is often hard. But it is one that is always worthwhile.