6. Don't focus too narrowly
Goldin is best known for infusing NASA with his "faster, better, cheaper" mantra, known to NASA insiders as FBC: Put fewer and simpler instruments on each spacecraft, build them quickly and relatively inexpensively, and launch a whole bunch of them. That way, if you lose one, you haven't thrown away a decade's worth of work.
In the 1980s, NASA was launching only about one space-science mission per year. Now the agency launches as many as 10. And FBC has created some major successes, such as the Mars Pathfinder, a spacecraft that deployed airbags to land on Mars and then released a robotic rover to investigate the planet's rocky surface. But NASA has been putting too many eggs in the FBC basket. True, the agency has continued to support some big-science missions, such as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility. Nevertheless, FBC has created the false expectation that NASA can achieve its scientific goals while minimally funding expensive missions and basic research. "What they've done is pushed the culture toward smaller spacecraft with fewer instruments," says author James Oberg.
Certainly, Pathfinder proved that even inexpensive, robotic missions have the power to create public excitement about space, and to return useful images and results. But though a robot can send back interesting data, it can't make sophisticated interpretations. Unmanned missions, while important precursors to human exploration, are a poor substitute for it.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.