Keith's note: NASA PAO offered news media a chance to ask questions of Thomas Zurbuchen, the new Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator. The audio of that event should be online shortly.
NASA Watch Question: "I have heard you mention massive things such as the Webb Space Telescope and tiny things like cubesats in the same sentence. You mentioned National Academy and White House initiatives for cubesats and Decadal designations for larger things. There is a vast gap there. The vast majority of taxpayers really do not understand what huge things like Webb do other than take pictures. But small cheap things like cubesats - something that they can hold in their hands do make that connection. Is there a use for cubesats other than strictly the doing science - perhaps EPO (education and public outreach)? Given that at least one presidential candidate has speculated about filling potholes as being more important than NASA how do you bring the potential of space research within the reach of the rest of America? Maybe start with cubesats? Any school in America can build and launch a cubesat from ISS for just over $100,000 - that's $10 from ever person in a community of 10,000 people. That's bake sale and car wash sort of funding levels. Aren't we already at the point where massive disruption that you have mentioned is now possible and that you are able to be that agent of change?"
Thomas Zurbuchen's Answer (transcribed live): "NASA activities are a range of investments and sizes. Not one size fits all. Take Hubble - with all its challenges and initial drawbacks - budgetary, performance - it is one of the most impactful tools we have ever launched especially when measured by Noble Prizes and brand recognition. How many of us have a Hubble image as a screen saver? I do. For that to happen it takes size. The Earth science program is not going to be done for the size of a cubesat. But we are looking at making data buys. We do make technology and innovation grants - even smaller amounts than cubesats - small investments that can allow many flowers to bloom. Cubesats are interesting because there is a commercial sector that is growing because of attitude of players in the market space. I have talked about the value of inspiration that comes from building something and putting it into space. Id like to enable careers for students. I see value at both ends of the spectrum and its hard to play them against each other."