You grew up in the South Bronx. What was your childhood like?
Daniel Goldin: It was a very happy childhood, but different.
I grew up in a row house in the very South Bronx and behind my house for about five years was a swamp, and it was a wonderful place. I used to go there and collect frogs and tadpoles. I always loved science. And later, I would fire off rockets there and start fires and one time the fire engine had to come to put out the fire because goofy Dan was making a rocket.
What inspired you as a kid to be setting off rockets in the South Bronx?
Daniel Goldin: My father has had an incredible -- I said "had." He died recently. He was a major force in my life. He had an incredible drive for me because he didn't have the success in his life that he had dreamed of, and he exposed me to science. But, most of all he exposed me to the stars. He took me to the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History. I could see the tapes in my mind playing in color the day I went to the Hayden Planetarium, and they turned on that star machine and I looked up and they showed our own galaxy. It was breathtaking, and I remember this at seven years old. And I remember talking to my father and I was saying, "How can we go there? I want to go there."
He told me we didn't know how to go there. I think that was the germ that was the issue that got me excited.
Did it surprise your parents or your friends that you were thinking about this at such a young age?
Daniel Goldin: No, because I had a special circumstance in my life. I had what was called progressive myopia. My eyeball kept getting distorted more and more, so I became more and more nearsighted. At that time, if you had a detached retina due to the buildup of pressure on the eye you could go blind. So, the eye doctor told my mother and father, "Don't ever let this child fall down. Don't ever let this child play contact sports." In the Bronx, you played stickball and baseball and basketball in the school yard. I wasn't allowed to do that and I became different than my friends. I was self conscious. I wanted to be like them but I was forced by health reasons to be different. So I would sit in the house and read books and do my science projects while they were off playing basketball and baseball, and I was jealous. I was envious. My father recognized this and he filled the void and helped me to be different, not to do what everybody else was doing. I was angry at him. I didn't talk at him. I yelled at him, but he held tight.
My father always was there to help me understand you have to have something in here that guides you. You can't look for guidance over there or over there or over there. And, up until the time I was 25, I never appreciated what my father did for me. We fought. It makes me a little weepy just thinking about this tremendous conflict we had. But he never yielded, and I think that really helped me become a human being -- forget about a scientist -- to understand that my reference clock is in here, and I could do anything I believed I could do. I should do anything that I believe is right to do, and I think he helped me be a better human being.
Did you have siblings?
Daniel Goldin: I have two sisters. One is two years younger than me and the other is 13 years younger than me, and we had sibling rivalry. We used to punch each other. But my father always used to drag all of us. It would be inclusive. If we went to the museum, I went with my sisters. He always forced the family to do things together. My sisters are very artistic. They draw. They take pictures. I'm more focused on rational scientific thought.
We never had money, so if we went away on vacation we'd take a tent because we couldn't afford to pay for hotels, and we'd borrow a car from a member of our family because we didn't even have a car. And, we'd go camp and all it would cost was the food for the camp trip. And, I remember in the evenings my father would take us out and he'd point out all the constellations, point out all the stars, and that was the part of the day that I loved the best -- looking at the heavens with my father, who talked about it.
Is that when you decided what you wanted to do? Nobody was thinking about space travel.
Daniel Goldin: I wanted to understand why we couldn't go to those stars. I wanted to know. We certainly didn't have the rockets to do it, but that didn't mean it couldn't be done. There was no NASA, there was no space program, so I didn't know where I'd end up. When I graduated college and went to work for NASA I thought I'd achieved a state of nirvana. I said, "I'll be happy to stay here the rest of my life being a research scientist sitting in my laboratory working on space."
That's another beautiful part of life: you don't know where you're going to end up and you don't know how it's going to happen. One day, I got a call from a corporation who wanted me to come work for them, and I was getting itchy at the time. I was working on a Mars mission, and I said, "NASA's not going to do this. Apollo's going to end and they're going to shut down the space program." So I left NASA. I didn't plan to come back.
What I knew deep in my soul is the only thing I wanted to work on in my life was space. I would do it any way I could. If I could just translate astronomical tables, I would be happy doing that. If I could sweep the floor around the rocket I would be happy doing that. So it made no difference to me. That was my sustenance. That is my sustenance. And now I run NASA. It doesn't get any better than this.
Every day I have to pinch myself. I work for the President of the United States. I grew up in the South Bronx. I had to work from the time I was 11 years old to contribute to the family. We never had very much. My father sorted mail to make a living. He had various and sundry jobs. I'm the Administrator at NASA, and it's a privilege. It's an honor. I didn't plan it. It just happened.
Aside from your father, were there any other role models in your life? Were there teachers, or books you read, that particularly influenced you when you were growing up?
I built my first planes maybe when I was eight, nine years old with my Uncle Joe. And I remember a plane we built. It was about this big. It was made out of balsa wood. It took weeks and weeks and months to build, and we got the Exacto knives and we sanded it. We put it together. You know, it broke, we put it back together again, and then we painted it. It was red and blue. I remember the color. We put an engine on it, hooked up the wires and I started up the engine, and I flew that plane. I got such pleasure out of it. It was so exciting.
My Uncle Joe is a dreamer. He helped me form images in my mind. To be a good scientist, a good engineer, you have to be able to visualize things, conceptualize it, have a picture in your brain, look at it upside down, inside out, and my Uncle Joe helped me do that.
There's a third person: my grandfather, who taught me how to love. He taught me to look for the positive things in people. Every time I would get frustrated or angry with someone, he always told me, "You've got to look for the positive things." He was an incredible influence on me. I don't know that there's any one book that knocked my socks off, but I love reading books about creative people to see how they conducted their lives. I loved reading about history. I love nonfiction. So I'd read nonfiction about people, and then I'd read science fiction about dreaming.
I think all these things helped make me what I am today, but the driving force in my life was my father, who forced me to be different, who wanted me to have what he couldn't have. He's a first generation American. His mother was placed in New York City by my great-grandfather, who saw the disaster coming in Europe. My great-grandfather had 12 children and he placed them in different cities because he was worried that maybe some of them wouldn't survive. My grandparents, they worked as garment workers. They were piece workers.
My father graduated college during the Depression, in biology. He wanted to be a scientist and he sorted mail for ten years of his life. There was a rage inside of him and to his credit he transformed that rage of frustration to me to drive me, to tell me to take risk. When I failed he never beat me up, but he got angry at me when I played it safe and he pushed me and he pushed me and he pushed me.
At 25 years old I finally thanked him. I wasn't angry anymore. I didn't talk to my father in any substantive way from the time I was 16 to 25 because I didn't understand. He wanted me to achieve what he could never achieve.
What made you realize at 25 how much your father had done for you?
Daniel Goldin: I was achieving success and recognition. I found I had an incredible ability to create, to invent. I had always been very self conscious. I was insecure. I never knew whether I'd be able to make a contribution. And there I was in my laboratory doing research, writing papers, and people were listening to me. I was being accepted by the scientific community, the engineering community. I was making a contribution. I didn't quite understand it.
It struck me - how did I get here? It was like a fog and a cloud and I didn't quite understand it. And, I finally realized my father made me hungry. He made me want to reach and achieve and he didn't allow me to accept mediocrity. He embarrassed me by forcing me to be different. I would squirm from any controversy and then I found myself acting like my father. It was overwhelming. And, over a period of about a half of a year this consciousness came to me, the fog cleared and from that point on we talked. It was incredible.
And he lived to see it happen.
Daniel Goldin: Yes. He was in the White House.
The President of the United States invited my father and mother, my daughters and my wife, my son-in-law, to the swearing in. And, it was unbelievable. They said, "Bring the family Bible." We had it. My wife took it out. We went for the ceremony. And, when the ceremony was over, my father went over and started touching the President. He just touched him. I got embarrassed, but I said, "Be quiet." The President understood. He had achieved. He had achieved it.
Were there any teachers who inspired you or were important to you?
Daniel Goldin: Yes, there was one teacher. I had skipped some grades, so intellectually I was where I was supposed to be, but emotionally I was way behind. I was a goofy kid. I was immature. Skipping was the worst thing for me. I had a hard time sitting still and learning. I got bored in school. I wasn't a good student and I had some bad behavior. I had a teacher called Mr. Alweiss, who was my guidance counselor, and he was always on my case. He drove me in just the opposite way: he told me I was a bum. I remember one day my mother had just seen him. I was in high school, and she was walking home with my little sister Lucy in the carriage and my dog Blackie on a leash hooked up to the carriage.
Tears are coming down my mother's cheeks. And, she says, "I'm going to kill you. I just spoke to Mr. Alweiss and he says you're a bum and you should get out of the college preparation courses and take general training and become a plumber. You should be a plumber, you're such a bum." And I had a rage. He made me angry, and I said, "I'm not going to be a bum. I know I'm going to do great things."
So, like a rim shot, in a negative way, it drove me. I had a teacher, Miss Barzi, in the fourth grade who recognized my immature behavior. She related to me and that I felt was very, very important. There were a number of different teachers along the way who believed in me. If I liked the course, I would knock it out of the park, and if I didn't relate to it, I would just leave it alone. There were a few inspiring teachers who didn't look at me as a goofball, because I was very shy, but were able to relate to me and draw me out. I had very low self esteem, and I was terrified to say anything in class. It's amazing how an adult can affect a child.
How did you get along with your classmates?
Outside of your family, did you have boyhood heroes, real or imaginary?
Daniel Goldin: Spacemen. I used to go to the Ward Theater on Westchester Avenue on Saturday afternoons. They'd have a serial every Saturday. Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. I loved it. They were swashbuckling imaginary heroes - you who'd conquer anything and overcome the forces of evil. I couldn't get enough of it. I knew every word. I'm not much of one for spectator sports, but I went to Yankee Stadium to watch Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizutto. But my real heroes were my father and my grandfather and my Uncle Joe.
When you embarked on your career, was there someone who gave you a break, or saw something special in you?
My first boss, Bill Mickelson -- a little short fellow, crew cut, wore a fresh bow tie every day -- and he saw that I was insecure. He saw that I understood how to do the work, but I needed to become more of a complete person. So, he asked me to talk, do public speaking, every single week. He wanted me to talk to a tour group coming through NASA. And this is the '60s; people were fascinated with the space program. And I said, "I can't do that." He said, "Oh yes you are." I mean it was tough love. And, I got in front of my first groups. I got tongue tied and humiliated. And he'd send me back and I'd have problems. I said, "Bill, I can't do this anymore." He'd send me back. I said, "Bill, I can't." "Go back." I did this for two years.
There are a lot of smart people with talent and potential who never realize it. Why do you think you have succeeded where others don't?
Daniel Goldin: I'm lucky. I'll tell you, I love being the head of NASA. I was a corporate executive, I ran a huge organization, but I think I could have been just as happy as a research scientist somewhere out in that sea just being able to work on the space program. I didn't aspire to this. One day I got a call from the White House, from someone who I didn't know. He said, "Dan, the President of the United States wants to know if you'd like to be a NASA Administrator." I said, "Say what? I don't know anything about Washington. I'm not active in politics. I don't belong to any party. Are you sure you've got the right guy?" It just happened. Maybe I'm blessed. Maybe I'm under the right star. I don't know.
What do you think it takes to succeed in your field?
Daniel Goldin: My criteria for success is not to search for power or glory, or to be in charge, but to make a contribution, to make this world a better place. As long as I can continue to do that, I will consider myself successful.
I feel anyone who believes in themselves, anyone who has a dream burned into their brain -- and what the dream is, I don't know -- but as long as they have a direction and they carry it out, and when they have failure they say, "God, what a blessing! I learned! I'll never do that again," those are the people who have success.
There are some people who decide when they're young they want to be President of the United States, or a football star or a rock star and make millions of dollars, but very few people ever achieve those goals.
I think it's very dangerous for young people to set unrealistic goals because then you have an excuse for failure and you can say, "It's okay that I live in mediocrity because I didn't achieve my goal." But, if you set a goal that's unachievable, you're leading yourself down a very bad direction. Very, very bad. So success must be defined. A dream must be laid down. A determination and inner strength must be there. And, in my case, making a contribution -- taking America to the moon, to Mars and the stars, even as one small piece -- is my definition of success. And I believe I could do that. I know I could do that.
When the phone rang and a voice on the other end said, "This is the White House," did you think somebody was pulling your leg? What were you thinking?
Daniel Goldin: I was on my way back from Spain. I had gone to the World Administrative Radio Conference there because I had invented a new commercial communication system with some of my coworkers, and I went there to get frequency spectrum and we got it. I was flying back and, as soon as we got over the microwave stations in Canada, I called my office because I had been out of contact and I had a lot of things going on. My secretary said, "You just got a call from the White House." My immediate reaction was "What have we done wrong?" We were doing a lot of government business so I said, "God, we must be in trouble. There must be something I don't know about." I waited about a half hour to place the call because I was nervous some administration official was going to tell me we had done something bad in one of the defense systems my group had been working on.
When you hung up that phone, what was the next thing you did?
Daniel Goldin: I wanted to scream for joy, but I also realized it was going to be a very significant sacrifice. I talked to my wife about it. My daughters had graduated from college and we were very close. Our weekends were spent with them, and we'd have to give that up. I was making a considerable amount of money, and I would have to give that up. There were some complicated financial situations, but the honor and the privilege of serving the American people in this job just overwhelmed me. "My God, the President of the United States is interested in having me run NASA!" At the time, NASA was in a lot of trouble, but it never bothered me because I believed that the people at NASA were the most outstanding in the world and all they needed to do was to open their minds and open their spirits, and have someone tell them how good they are. So that part never bothered me. It all happened almost overnight. From the time my name went up until I was confirmed was maybe a week and a half. They pushed me right through.
You took over a government agency with a big budget that, as you put it, was in a lot of trouble. How do you deal with that?
Daniel Goldin: I wrote down seven points on a piece of paper the night before I went for my interview with a senior government official, and I discussed each point. These were the things that I felt were necessary to do and we checked off each and every one. We both agreed. From that, I went back and I wrote out a plan of what had to be done --very simple, very focused. It's not as though I was coming from the planet Mars, if you will, into the job. I had been in the space business since I was seven years old. This job had my name written on it, although I never knew it.
When I went for my interviews with the members of the Senate up on Capitol Hill, I told them what the plan was. I said, "Here it is. If you want to vote for me and confirm me as a NASA Administrator, this is my plan for what I intend to do for this agency, and if not then I'm the wrong person." After I got sworn in, the very first thing I did was kiss my wife and children goodbye. They went back to Los Angeles. Within 30 minutes I was at NASA. We have an internal TV system, and I gave a speech to all the NASA employees. I told them exactly what to expect, and I've stuck to that script. I haven't changed it one iota. It is now my seventh year and we now are measuring things. We have metrics, so people can actually see what their accomplishments are.
We fixed the Hubble Space Telescope. It was nearsighted just like me. It needed a contact lens. And, there was terrible depression at NASA because we launched it and it didn't work. Bad people didn't do that. The space frontier is fraught with problems. But we put a team together and good people fixed it. The same people that designed it, fixed it. We launched a probe to Mars and it blew up when it got to Mars. Within 24 hours, we conceived that we're going to put a lander on Mars and do it in three years for a quarter of the cost, and we did it.
Is that one of the most important keys, to make sure people understand that they are worth something, that they can do it?
Daniel Goldin: The leader is only one. The leader can only work to create an environment for the brilliance and the warmth and the loving of all the people in the organization. The leader can't make all the decisions. The leader creates an environment. If you create an environment where you reinforce negative feelings about people, you have a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ego-wise it's easy: "Hey, it's not my fault. These people are incompetent." But they're not. People may be terrific, but they have to know what they're doing is terrific, they have to be given the tools. And there's another issue, in both federal government and in industry.
People have got to be given responsibility, clearly defined -- a contract if you will -- and say, "Here. I trust you. Let's sign this contract." People felt you can't do that because it will cause fear. It didn't cause fear. When you give someone a responsibility and authority, they don't mind being accountable. They step up. So, that's the other aspect. We had 85 people signing off on the shuttle before it's launched. If some one thing went wrong, who's responsible? You need that pride of ownership. So, contracts and measurements are absolutely key.
How do you deal with adversity and with criticism?
The stress is enormous, I had no idea. I've gained 30 pounds. I'm not working out. I eat from nervousness to suppress some of this emotion, because for the most part I hold it down. Basically, I'm a volatile person. E very minute of I've got to manage my emotional control. Some people are born to be level. I fight every day of my life to be level, and I'm not allowed the luxury of blowing up, but occasionally I do. I'm not allowed the luxury of getting depressed, which I very rarely do because if people are counting on you, you've got to be level. It's a battle for me every day. From when I wake up until I go to sleep, I'm battling this fire inside my belly. I try not to make things personal, and there's always the temptation. The American people don't care about the personal issue of who said what to whom or how do I feel or why am I angry. They want a space program that costs less and does more for their children and themselves. They want to be inspired. They don't care if the NASA Administrator is angry at a member of Congress.
What do you say to those who argue, "We've been to the moon. Why go to Mars? We have problems on Earth we have to solve."
Daniel Goldin: In the time of Christopher Columbus, they had rats and scurvy. They had disease. Go to any point in history, and you will find they had health problems. They had agricultural problems. They had human problems. So to say that as the human species we're only here to consume and survive, is not adequate. Any country, any group of people, any human being that draws in on themselves and goes into that mode, ultimately dies. America is a vibrant country. It was formed in violence, but it had a dream and it always follows that dream and has a vision. Part of the responsibility that we have as adults is to explore the unknown.
Exploration could take a whole variety of forms. It could be studying the evolution of life. It could be studying inner space to understand the structure of matter. It could be going to Mars. But the only way you make progress is doing things that have never been done before and push the boundaries. Take on tasks that make your head hurt. Take on tasks that are so difficult there's a 50/50 chance you're going to fail. We know, as a society, every time we operate that way we make progress.
That's what life's about. The cave man picked up a burning stick and singed his fingers. That was progress. So it's not an adequate answer to say I'm not going to explore because I want to add a thousandth of a percent of the gross domestic product to battle something that's going to be there. In fact, when we explore, we find all sorts of things. There's a cornucopia that comes back to us, but we can't say what it's going to be. We wouldn't even be approaching the thought of a cure for cancer today if we didn't explore.
We wouldn't have jet travel today if we didn't explore. Hundreds of people lost their lives flying these crazy planes. We called it the X1 and the X2 and the X3. Why did they do it? People were dying of disease and we had social problems in the '40s and the '50s, but we all like to ride in jet planes because it brings us closer together. Space is something that's visible. It's dangerous. We know that there's danger, but we can't shirk away from it. If we intend to be a society that's going to be rich for our children, we've got to explore.
What would you say to a young person who came to you for advice? "Should I get into the space business?"
Daniel Goldin: I'd give them general advice. I'd say, "Have a dream. Burn it into your brain. Take time and figure out what it is, but then hold onto it. There will be people who will tell you with certainty what can't be done. There are critics all over the place. They can critique the creation of others, and sound really smart, because they don't have to create. "
When President Jefferson proposed the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Daniel Webster said on the floor of the Senate, "Why explore west of the Mississippi? It's a barren wasteland." He knew with certainty what couldn't be done. So I tell young people, "Figure out what you want to do, and then put a figurative steel I-beam in your back. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Don't chase after money because you'll never get enough of it. Have a meaningful philosophy of life and you will succeed. And, by the way, in most cases the money will follow, but that's not important." That's what I tell them. "And, if you happen to be a scientist, stay a scientist." Many of our scientists go take management classes and want to become big administrators and managers, and that's okay, but we need scientists.
As you look ahead to the 21st century, what do you think is the biggest challenge awaiting us?
American children are falling farther and farther behind in the ability to understand science and math, at a time when technology is dominating the future vitality of our society for economics, for health, for sustainable development. Now I'm not saying everyone has to be a mathematician or a scientist to be a good citizen. But twenty years from now, these children born today, are going to need technology and math and science just to conduct their lives, even if they don't choose that path. I view this as a crisis for our country. And we cannot just talk about it. We can't just delegate it to government and pay a teacher. Adults and young adults have to involve themselves in the schools. Some children don't get touched more than once a day. They don't even get touched. They see their teacher and that's it. We need to do an incredible amount to fix this.
This is the issue that's going to determine where America will be in 20 years. You ask people where America's going to be in 20 years, and they say, "We're going to be vital and robust. But if you say, "Who's responsible," you get a lot of harrumphing. That responsibility belongs to every human being in this country who has the ability to communicate with young people. We can do it right or we can do it wrong, but we've got to get to the hearts and minds of these young people and help them understand what's ahead.
Are there any books that you would recommend to young people, anything you think they should read?
Daniel Goldin: Anything! Read about people. Read about great discoveries. Read about science. Read about stars. Read about actors. Read about art. Read about geography. Read prolifically. It's wonderful. Read magazines. Read books. Read newspapers. Young people don't read newspapers. They get the news in sound bites. You need to have the basic data to make your own decisions. You don't need a newscaster to tell you what's important or not important. You don't need an editorial writer to tell you what's right or wrong. You've got to have the experience of exploration. So I say to young people, "Read. Involve yourself in the happenings in the world. Don't be a spectator. Get onto this wonderful stage we call life and interact."
What do you think are the most important documents of this century?
Anything that was written to help us back away from conflict and educate people -- in substance, not just in style -- is an important document, so our children don't have to go through air raid drills, so our children don't have to be worried about being poisoned by bacteria or chemicals. There are many more important documents that have to be written because there are still bad people in this world.
Is there something you haven't done that you want to do?
Daniel Goldin: I'd like to travel in a leisurely fashion, to spend time in places around our own country to just get to know people. When I graduated college, I didn't even have a graduation. I took my last final on a Friday morning, this cold February morning in New York. I walked across Amsterdam Avenue with my classmates. We went to a bar. We all had a drink, and toasted each other. We knew we were never going to see each other again. I went home and packed and went out west to Cleveland, Ohio. That Sunday I went to work. I've worked ever since. I'm driven. I haven't taken time to get to know people. Now I know there's more to this country. People have wonderful wisdom. Occasionally I'll sit on a plane for three or four hours talking to someone. I don't tell them my position in life. We just talk as fellow human beings, and there's tremendous wisdom there. So I'd like to spend time just going to a town and staying there a while and getting to meet people and talking to them. I'd like to travel overseas and meet people. I've been programmed to work since February of 1962, and I'd like to have time just to get to know people.
You've spoken so eloquently about the importance of exploration. Are there places on this planet you'd like to explore?
Daniel Goldin: The South Pole, I'd like to go there. Antarctica, absolutely. We might learn much about the origins of life there. There's an isolated lake there called Lake Vostok that's millions of years old, untouched by our atmosphere. It's part of the Antarctic ice shelf. I don't know what's in that lake. If --no, when --we drop an aquabot through that ice, I'd like to be there. That simulates a mission we're going to have to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. We found a frozen ice crust over this moon and we think there's a liquid water ocean underneath. I don't know if I could ever get to Europa. The radiation level is too high, but we're going to put a submarine through miles of ice on Europa and it will melt through that ice. If there's an ocean there and it turns on its lights, God only knows what we're going to see! So I'll get some sense of that in Lake Vostok in the Antarctic.
Daniel Goldin: Never, never, never, never. You can't. You can't give up on people and you can't give up on ideas unless it's proved conclusively that you've gone down the wrong path. I've had failures, and when I've had a failure I'm perfectly willing to accept that failure, but all I'll do is dust myself off and keep charging. You can never stop. Never, never. You can never feel sorry for yourself. You've got to keep going.
What's been the hardest part of your career? What's been the toughest thing to take?
Daniel Goldin: Ignorance, intolerance, special agendas. I swallow hard and ignore it and move forward. When I see bright people with the public trust try to utilize public funds for an agenda of their own, it gives me problems.
Something you brought to NASA for the first time was the need for cultural diversity. Can you say something about that?
When people think of the space program, we think of white males, because we see their images in all these Apollo movies, and we think these are the only scientists and engineers and astronauts. There were women who were eligible to be astronauts during Apollo, and NASA said, "We're not going to fly women. Women can't go into space." But it's this melting pot -- women and men working together, people from different countries who have different cultures and different understandings -- that makes the richness that we call America. With the exception of the original natives, who brought another richness. None of us could say we could do it exclusively.
When I got to NASA, the people in the space program weren't bad, but they had these images in their heads of who ought to work at NASA, who ought to manage NASA, because they grew up with it. Those were images of middle-aged white males. It wasn't discrimination. I don't believe that they were doing it maliciously, but NASA has to look like the American people. You don't put someone into a job because they're white or black or yellow, but you have to cast the net widely. You can't just promote someone because of a list of things they worked on. If someone is old enough to fog a mirror, should they be eligible to do something? You have to look at the potential within people. You have to look at the richness that people bring to the task, how they interact with other human beings, what's their intelligence, what's their ability to create, and run a level playing field with fair and open competition.
But we have a problem. The pipeline is not full in all dimensions. It's sad that, if you take a look at the number of Ph.D.'s in the physical sciences in America and African-Americans are well below their representation in the population. Hispanic Americans are well below. Are our colleges casting the net widely enough? In America we have an obligation to our children. At birth, there's new life, there's hope and joy and expectation, no matter where it is, it could be in the middle of a slum. We can't let that candle get snuffed out because someone's born black or brown. A lot of people talk about it, but are they doing what's necessary to cast the net widely so that every child at one year, five years, ten years, 15 years, 20 years, believes in their heart that there's hope and opportunity, that they can go as far as they can go?
This is what's important. Because NASA is so visible, we've got to look like America, and we're still not there. If black children don't see someone who looks like them and speaks like them who has achieved as a scientist, if they only see entertainment figures and sports figures, what message does that send to them about their opportunities in life? So at NASA we have more of an obligation. We've got to do what it takes to fill that pipeline. I hope that everyone who says we don't need affirmative action is ready to stand up and commit themselves and cast the net and not use buzzwords. I'm a little emotional, because this too is a crisis.
How do you define the American dream?
Daniel Goldin: Anyone, from the moment they're born, should be able to go as far as their abilities and dreams take them. That's the American dream. When my daughters were born, I sat there and I looked at this miracle of life, and there was no doubt in my mind that my daughters would achieve whatever they wanted to achieve. The American dream has to be broader than that. It has to mean that when a black or a brown child is born, and that parent looks at that child with all their love, they believe and expect that that child will go as far as their innate skills will take them and their dreams will take them. We are not there yet. We talk about it, but we've got to do it.
It has been an inspiration talking with you. Thank you very much.