Bret Stephens of the New York Times celebrates Founding Director Abraham Flexner's seminal essay The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, citing recent NASA missions including New Horizons, OSIRIS-REx, and InSight as examples of the kind of curiosity-driven research that Flexner so staunchly defended.
"There are plenty of reasons to worry about the state of the American mind today, as well as the state of the university. Speech is not as free; gadflies are not as welcome; inquiry is dictated as much by the availability of funding as it is by the instincts of curiosity, and funding itself is often short. But let’s start 2019 on a happier note. Even in the midst of the shutdown, the New Horizons mission was still considered an 'essential' activity of government. If Flexner were alive to witness it, he might say, 'most essential.'"