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Fly Me to the Moon

July 5, 2010

Here’s another one for the “Beyond Parody” file drawer:

[NASA administrator Charles Bolden: “]When I became the NASA Administrator — before I became the NASA Administrator — [Obama] 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, math, and engineering.[“]

[…]

“NASA is not only a space exploration agency,” Bolden concluded, “but also an earth improvement agency.”

Seldom do government established institutions fold after their original mission is over. Because shutting down publicly funded agencies is a political nightmare, new tasks are found for existing institutions to look busy even though their raison d’être is a thing of the past. Looks like NASA is going to be just another example for that.

Having scrapped NASA’s moon programme and Mars being out of reach for the next, oh, couple of decades or so if ever, Obama apparently felt the need to give the scientists, engineers, technicians and the rest of the brilliant minds working at NASA something meaningful to do until they reach retirement age. So his vision for NASA’s future doesn’t involve rockets or planets or, say, space, but more kids with bad marks at school because they take math and physics instead of culinary classes and film studies, lots of traveling for NASA personnel to exotic places (on planet Earth), and Muslim nations that feel good about their past. Who needs space exploration when you can ‘improve the earth’?

The French Cowboy wonders, though, how NASA is going to succeed with the first listed goal. It won’t be easy to convince children that it’s worth to fight their way through math and science only to work at an institution that has been degraded from rocketing people to other planets to functioning as the unofficial US government outreach centre to inhabitants of the Earth, mostly “the Muslim world”.

Besides, how is this whole ‘make Muslims feel good about their scientific achievements’ thing supposed to work anyway? Do NASA employees pair up with Iranian rocket scientists to become pen pals? Is there a space explorer exchange programme between the US and Syria in the works? Or maybe direct contact isn’t what’s needed here, but NASA could point out how much their achievements hadn’t been possible without Muslim contribution: “Look! We use Arabic numerals all the time!” or “Without your oil our human capital would be needed for deep sea drilling and nothing would be left for space-explorer outreach to you!”

But Obama saw one thing right: international relationships are going to be key for future space missions. I suggest that NASA also encourage kids to get into foreign languages, mostly Russian and Chinese. That might be the only route for them to become astronauts.

Maybe a good example of how Obama would like NASA programmes to look like is this:

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