Can NASA Save a Struggling America?

A-3 Test Stand Construction at Stennis Space Center

This special guest post comes to us from Rebecca D. Costa, author of The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction (more on Rebecca in the bio at the bottom).

If we took a moment to rank every government agency in the United States on the basis of tackling complex problems, NASA would have to be at the top of everyone’s list. Thousands of scientists and administrators work every day to successfully bridge the gap between science and the great unknown.

But perhaps more important than their ability to leverage science to push the boundaries of human achievement, NASA has proven time and again that they know how to execute. Imagine for a moment any other agency being charged with getting a 4.5 million-pound payload into outer space on a regular timetable. Never mind time and again performing these miracles on a budget.

But here’s the real kicker. About a decade ago the folks at NASA began worrying that America might be losing its love affair with space exploration. They saw budget cuts looming on the horizon and fewer and fewer cameras were showing up for the next shuttle launch. As the country became worried about more pressing issues such as record unemployment, terrorism, climate change and healthcare, NASA was becoming irrelevant.

So the agency started looking around for a little side project.

It didn’t take long for NASA to realize that renewable energy was the next big frontier. They were also pretty certain the answer would come from the greatest source of clean energy known to man: the Sun — something the folks at NASA felt they knew a little about.

So NASA quietly embarked on a program called “space-based solar.” They were determined to solve, once and for all, the growing need for clean, renewable energy, for the American people and every man, woman and child on the planet. Imagine the impact this would have in terms of clean water, hospitals, infant mortality, education and agriculture in even the most remote villages of the world.

The idea behind space-based solar was to install solar cells high above the Earth’s atmosphere where the yield is more intense. The energy would be transmitted in the form of diluted, harmless wavelengths to a small satellite dish attached to the roof of every home and business (think satellite TV dish). No more wires or dams or electrical towers strewn across the desert. No more coal-fired plants or nuclear power facilities. No more solar mattresses affixed to our rooftops. No brown outs, power outages or back-up generators. All of them gone, in an instant.

Sounds brilliant.

But what would you say if I told you that NASA has this technology today?

What if I said that NASA has been banging at the door of the U.S. Department of Energy for over a decade and no one will answer. Every time they get a foot in the door they are chastised for “mission creep” and “overreach.” NASA? Those scientists need to stick to pictures of Mars.

Time to sound The Watchman’s Rattle: Wake up, America!

As China takes the market for solar and wind technology right out of the hands of the DOE (just ask any venture capital firm specializing in clean tech – the writing is on the wall), NASA stands ready for a new mission: to leap-frog the worldwide hunt for renewable energy by initiating a full-scale space-based solar program. We have the technology, we have the resources, we have the need and the will – now all we need is for the Oval Office to run with it.

No country has a space agency more knowledgeable, powerful or successful than NASA and the time has come for the United States to leverage this untapped asset. Forget investing in more nuclear power plants or trying to manufacture solar panels and wind generators more cheaply than China. When you can’t compete nose to nose there’s only one thing left to do:change the playing field. And in this case, America owns the field.

Space-based solar is alive and well at NASA. According to senior scientists who don’t care to have their 30-year careers at NASA come to an end for spilling the beans, pilot programs could be up an running within one year. That’s right, just one year. Compare this to the four to five years it takes for a single new nuclear plant to become operational.

America: stop chasing the market. Get busy getting ahead of it. We have NASA to thank for an opportunity to eclipse every other energy solution here on earth.

© 2010 Rebecca Costa, author of The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction.

Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist whose unique expertise is to spot and explain emerging trends in relationship to human evolution, global markets, and new technologies. Costa joins distinguished business leaders, Nobel Laureates, scientists, innovators and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from around the world to address growing concerns over dangerous threats such as global warming, pandemic viruses, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and failing public education. A popular speaker at thought-leader and technology conferences as well as major universities, Costa is the former CEO of Silicon Valley start-up Dazai Advertising, Inc. Costa’s clients included technology giants such as Apple Computer, Hewlett- Packard, Oracle Corporation, 3M, Amdahl, Seibel Systems and General Electric. She graduated from the University of California with a BA in Social Sciences. Rebecca Costa lives on the central coast of California.

For more information please visit www.rebeccacosta.com and follow the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo Credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via flickr (CC license)

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