In the mid 1950′s, during perhaps the zenith of cold war tensions, the US government sought a means for demonstrating to the world our nation’s supremacy in technological achievement. At that time there was an urgency to get a man into space, which was considered the next frontier of human scientific exploration. Making this mission to space all the more urgent was our Cold War political and technological rivalry with the Soviet Union. So out of this urgency, and created as a means for the exploration of space and the advancement of aeronautics, was created NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The history of NASA is quite clear, and I won’t spend any time rehashing the long, storied and successful past of this organization other than to say that they put a man on the moon (fulfilling President Kennedy’s dream and challenge to do so), they made orbital space flight and almost routine endeavor, and they made possible the exploration of the cosmos (with, for example, the Hubble Space Telescope and numerous unmanned probes to the planets and beyond.) The mostly distinguished record of NASA is largely unassailable as an exemplar of man’s cooperative pursuit of science and achievement.
However, with recent statements made by NASA administrator Charles Bolden, the future mission and potential accomplishments of NASA must be called into question. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mr. Bolden said the following:
“When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering…”
These three “things” are a fine mission for the the educational or foreign services arms of our government, but how do they bolster and support any aeronautical or space activities at the present time? In a nutshell, they do not! This is unfortunately PC crazy talk. I can understand that inspiring children to pursue math and sciences is a noble priority — we need young, engaged minds to train as tomorrow’s scientific leaders. However this should be done through the accomplishment of SOMETHING. Nothing inspires young minds like accomplishments, whether it be home run records, best selling songs, or the piloting of the world’s fastest aircraft. One cannot dredge up inspiration out of best wishes and butterfly kisses.
Expanding international relationships is not a traditional NASA task, unless it is performed under the aegis of in-space or scientific cooperation as demonstrated by the ISS (International Space Station.) However, this notion of relationships must be linked closely with scientific endeavors with specific goals and milestones…and not just a blanket feel good statement. Again, a pathway to accomplishment and achievement would provide the perfect framework for successful international cooperation.
As for Bolden’s third, and in his words “foremost” mission to reach out to dominantly Muslim nations and help them “feel” good about their contributions to the sciences, this is pure and unadulterated nonsense. It is politically-correct inanity raised to the power of madness. What would be the goal of such an outreach? Jihad in space? Sharia law on the moon? The naming of the “Great Satan” nebula by distinguished Islamic scholar? To borrow from Ebeneezer Scrooge — “Bah, Humbug!” This “mission” has NOTHING to do with space exploration, space travel or the advance of our understanding of aeronautics and science. It represents the worst of a flawed new-age liberal mindset where we can somehow convert the world to a 1970′s Coca Cola commercial, with all the inhabitants of the world singing “Kumbayah” with locked arms. It is foofarall and nonsense…and is an indication of just how deeply in trouble we are as a nation vis-à-vis our leadership. Or, by all indications, the lack thereof.
Yet, here we are in 2010, a time when the dreams of former star-struck children from the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s and 80′s should be coming to fruition as viable space programs. But this is a time when the NASA budget has been cut, key missions (like returning a man to the moon and the manned mission to Mars) have been canceled or greatly curtailed out of political expediency and a lack of scientific zeal at the uppermost levels of our government. And NASA is then given this grand “mission”…a slap in the face to men and women of pure science. An insipid mission that not only contradicts the vision and spirit of accomplishment of past missions and past administrations, but one that chafes at the sensibilities of most thinking Americans who, by the way, have to pay for this foolishness.
This is yet another example of how refreshing it will be to have a real change in administration in Washington in 2012.Perhaps we will be served by adults with authentic feelings and appreciation for America’s traditional values and exceptionalism as nation. Perhaps we’ll put this four year experiment in “change” for change’s sake behind us…and admit our failure to be more vigilant of our precious votes as a nation. This us unlikely to happen, but it would be refreshing.
Because right now, as this essay is being typed, the “mission” of our crown jewel in national technological achievement has been changed from pure science to political science. And when politics is brought into the equation, only bad things will come as a result. So, goodbye National Aeronautics and Space Administration and hello No Americans (in) Space Anymore.
I’m sure that millions of American schoolchildren will be suitably “inspired.”