It is early morning as I write this. And we all know – or realize with a moment’s reflection – that dawn’s onset can never be defined or known precisely. Just when did that darkness give way to light?

Dawn is always a special time. It is that point when the coming day offers its fullest promise. When it is bursting with potential, overflowing with opportunity. A night’s sleep, whether sound or fitful, has freed us from the bondage of yesterday’s mistakes. A fresh start seems possible. Hope rules, in the spirit of that wonderful Christmas hymn, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

What’s going on, Bill? What’s triggered this rhapsody?

An editorial in this morning’s Washington Post…complete with satellite image. The tone? Not particularly cheery. The piece cites a recently released National Academy of Science NRC report Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey developed under the auspices of the Space Studies Board and the leadership of Dennis Hartman. The editorial supports the report’s findings and recommendations that NASA budgets for Earth observing satellites should be restored to earlier, higher levels.

Readers coming to the editorial from various perspectives might see room for improvement. The editors refer to problems besetting both the operational Earth observing satellites and the research satellites, but address the funding challenge primarily for the latter. Some might wish the editorial had spoken to the need for increased funding more broadly… to cover ground-based Earth observing networks of weather radars, ocean sensors, and more; Earth science; and science-based services. Some might not be happy that the editorial pitted satellite funding against cheap student loans. After all, surely we need to invest in our young people – tomorrow’s human infrastructure – as well.

But the fact remains…in looking across the gamut of problems facing the world today and tomorrow, The Post editors chose to highlight this one. And leadership is less about doing things right, and more about doing the right things. To focus on this topic at this point in the 21st century is surely right.

So, is this really the dawn of human concern for the Earth observations, science, and services, on which hangs so much of our national agenda – the resource extraction; the food, water, and energy production; the environmental protection; the resilience to hazards? Or will the interest and concern and support lapse? Will our attentions be diverted? Might this be no more than a so-called false dawn[1]?

Of course.

But the point is…when future historians look back on this time, they’ll see this period of history as an age of emerging self-awareness of our changing impacts on the planet we live on…and its changing impact on us. They’ll see these years as a time of great awakening.

The dawn of a new day.

[1] Zodiacal light occurring before sunrise

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