These are trying times for Americans. Natural disasters of vast proportions, from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to tornadoes in the Midwest, dealt a staggering blow. The war in Iraq and rising gas prices at home have led to stress and uncertainty. It seems as though all we hear is bad news, and the federal government has certainly taken its share of the blame.
Rarely do we hear good stories about our government, but the truth is that Uncle Sam has some amazing ones to tell. Federal employees have a unique opportunity not only to make a difference in the lives of others, but to leave their mark on history. After all, it was a National Institute of Standards and Technology employee who developed the first computed axial tomography (CAT) scan to help diagnose cancer and other brain disorders. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) performed the first liver transplant in the world. These are monumental achievements by monumental people.
Too often, the people who do the Nation's work go unnoticed. That's why the Partnership for Public Service and Atlantic Media Company have established a national awards program to help raise Americans' awareness of the incredible work done on their behalf every day by federal workers. Created in 2002, the Service to America Medals, or "Sammies," honor the finest achievements of federal employees. Their stories of service remind us why government matters. We recently honored the 2005 Sammies awardees, and I am pleased to share their stories with you.
To Mars ... And Beyond
All the work our government does is important and serves a public purpose, but some of it is just plain amazing, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project.
Although Mars has long been the source of great curiosity and potential for discovery, NASA's efforts to study our neighboring planet have largely been met with frustration. Even though it has long been an agency priority, NASA did not land anything on Mars from 1976 to 1996. In 1997, there was a single "sprint" landing, just to show it could be done, but without a significant research component. That was followed by two failures to reach Mars in 1998 and much NASA soul-searching.
In 2001, Orlando Figueroa was asked to take over the reins of NASA's effort to reach Mars, and the project was on its way. The MER mission was designed to search for evidence of the role of liquid water in the geologic history of Mars by examining rocks and soils using a mobile laboratory. This endeavor has been extraordinarily successful in meeting this goal, clearly showing evidence that water had existed on Mars and helping rewrite our knowledge of the planet. In approximately 400 days of science-driven surface operations, these roving vehicles have …