During a scientific conference on climate change held in Durham, New Hampshire during the first week of September, NASA's chief administrator Daniel Goldin departed from the main topic to paint a glowing picture of the human future, including lots of space travel for common citizens.
Goldin made his predictions of a high-tech, upbeat, gee-whiz future to reporters following his scheduled address to the conference audience, which included scores of lawmakers, scientists, and environmentalists. Goldin's formal speech focused on how NASA can help study global climate change from space.
Among Goldin's predictions for the future:
In coming decades, much space travel will be conducted by private companies, which will also build orbiting space stations for everything from scientific research to manufacturing to tourism.
Many private citizens will fly in space.
Plane trips will be twice as fast for half the cost. Supersonic and even hypersonic (many times the speed of sound) commercial aircraft will become commonplace.
As for NASA itself, Goldin says the space agency's focus will shift from orbital exploration and other operations to almost a pure quest for knowledge about the nature of the universe. This will include scientific research on earth's environment and other global issues.
"We are about the quest for knowledge. We are about the future for our children," Goldin told reporters. "This is a different NASA."
Goldin also predicted that we will discover life on other planets in other solar systems, and that humans will eventually be able to live there.
He predicted that future meteorologists, using data collected from space, will be able to predict weather on global and local scales decades in advance. Natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanos will no longer be surprises, he said.
Goldin said that NASA already is talking to financial and business leaders about how to privatize some of its operations, such as shuttle launches, orbital data gathering and space station building. That way, NASA can shift its focus outward, to pure research and exploration of the universe.
"The American public wants us to stir their intellects. If we stir their souls, so much the better," Goldin said.
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