Launched night, NASA successfully launched the Kepler satellite telescope, a revolutionary mission designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. For the next three-and-a-half years, it will study 100,000 stars in a small patch of sky, seeking to detect the tiny dimming that will result when a small, Earth-sized planet passes in front of the star. It is one of the most sensitive scientific instruments ever launched into orbit.
Thomas Jefferson would love this. Were he alive today, he would follow the progress of the mission with great interest over the next few years. And he wouldn't have had a problem with the cost of the mission, for while he generally opposed government spending, he firmly believed that the government should promote scientific progress. Indeed, during his presidency, he spent considerable sums of government money dispatching scientific exploratory expeditions to the American West, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
I think NASA is one modern government department that Jefferson would strongly support today. He always considered himself a scientist first and a statesman second, and always gave his support to those activities designed to increase the general scientific knowledge of humanity.
Let's hope the Kepler Mission has great success over the next few years.