NASA’s Approach to Terrorism

The approach taken at NASA was to look clearly at its missions in light of this new reality. In the case of its aeronautics mission, for example, the agency asked whether its activities could be adapted to help deal both with terrorist tendencies and the challenges of aviation on any given day. These challenges included averting or avoiding collisions with inanimate objects of any sort, and using capacities, some developed by public-private partnerships, to reduce the danger of weather-related incidents.

This broadened agency focus meant paying heightened attention to aviation safety in general. Within the last month, he said, the agency had stepped up its attention to advancing the kinds of technology related to safety. Operationally this included (1) demonstrating a technology developed in partnership with several applications from industry to devise a specific methodology, and (2) testing that technology aboard an environment equivalent to that of a commercial airliner. This technology was designed to provide a pilot with an early alert of a potential collision, to repeat that alert several times, and to take evasive action automatically in case that action was not taken by the pilot. With this technology in place, the remaining challenges are operational—the task of taking such a capability and making it available to the real world of commercial conditions in a way that is not intrusive. Mr. O’Keefe emphasized that parts of this task involve debates and conflicts that had been easier to avoid previously. Now, he said, “there is an imperative to address them.”

He then introduced the first panelist, Congressman Boehlert, as a person who had been “not only incredibly supportive, but has led the way on science and technology objectives in his 20 years in Congress.”


Congressman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY)

Congressman Boehlert began by listing what he called “key points of agreement on what we are here to discuss today”:

  1. Homeland security has to be a primary focus of activities across the federal government.

  2. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is needed so that one agency is especially focused on the country’s security needs and so that security-related activities can be better coordinated.

  3. Science and technology must be essential elements of the work of a Department of Homeland Security, and any homeland security strategy.

  4. Cyber security is one of the critical areas to address in homeland security science and technology efforts.

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