NASA: Not About Space Anymore
By John D. Turner
28 Aug 2010

“…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 Administrator Charles Bolden on President Obama’s direction for the future of America’s Space Agency

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Last August, I wrote an article predicting the demise of the United States manned space program under the present administration. I guess I really shouldn’t be that surprised; we have been leading up to this moment for some time now. As I wrote on 20 July, 2008, the thirty-ninth anniversary of the first moon walk, our commitment to space seems these days to be “all hat and no cattle.”

Now it seems we are even dispensing with the hat.

According to Charles Bolden, NASA’s administrator, when he was given the job, President Obama charged him with three things; “One, 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."

Not go to Mars. Not go back to the moon. Not even to find a way to get to the International Space Station (which we primarily paid for) without the aid of the Chinese and the Russians. Not really anything at all to do with space. In fact, not even once does the word “Space” appear in that presidential statement of direction.

Nope. NASA’s primary mission these days seems to be a focus on Education. In fact, back in January 2010, the White House directed NASA to “concentrate on Earth-science projects – principally researching and monitoring climate change – and on a new technology and development program that will one day make human exploration of asteroids and the inner solar system possible.”

There will be federal dollars for private companies (supposedly) to develop a way to get to the ISS – someday. Meanwhile, we will continue to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get people back and forth to the ISS, and provision them. Good thing they are our friends!

What exactly is the point of having a Space administration that doesn’t do Space? I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; after all, we have an Energy department that has no energy plan, an Education department that doesn’t educate, and a Department of Homeland Security that seems incapable of securing our borders. Why should a National Aeronautics and Space Administration that does neither Aeronautics nor Space seem so shocking?

Apparently even Earth-science projects are out of NASA’s reach too, now. Despite its official web site, which states that NASA’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research”, NASA’s primary mission now seems to be to make Muslims feel good about themselves. At least that’s what Director Bolden says President Obama said.

That website is going to need a major makeover.

I guess now NASA is going to be a historical society dedicated to Muslim outreach. It has to be historical, because when it comes to science, the contributions of Muslim nations lie hundreds of years in the past. It is true that Muslims are into rockets, however their primary interest in such things seem to be how many they can fire at Israel on any given day from sanctuaries on the other side of the Israeli border.

True, Iran is interested in bigger and better rockets. But again, they are primarily interested in rockets that can reach from Iran to Israel. And now, it seems, arming them with nuclear payloads. But not to worry! Perhaps we can partner with the Iranians, like we did with the Chinese under President Clinton. Wasn’t it nice of us to give them multi-stage rocket technology so their nuclear armed missiles could reach us here in the States? Maybe if we make nice-nice to Muslims, and stroke their egos a bit they won’t aim those nukes at us after they turn Israel into a glass parking lot.

Bolden really should know better. He is a retired Marine Corps Major General. He is also a former NASA astronaut with four space flights and over 680 hours logged in space. He can’t be stupid. But then again, just because one can pilot a space shuttle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one is qualified to run the entire space agency.

According to Bolden, “NASA is not only a space exploration agency, but also an Earth improvement agency.” Wow! I didn’t see that anywhere in NASA’s mission statement on the NASA website either!

And as yet another indication of how far we have slipped as a nation, Bolden told al-Jazeera, 40 years after we first sent Neil Armstrong to the Moon that “the U.S. can no longer reach beyond Earth’s orbit without assistance from abroad. “ “We’re not going to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit as a single entity,” Bolden said. “The United States can’t do it.”

Really? We can’t do something we did 40 years ago? We are somehow incapable, with today’s technology, to do something we were able to do 40 years ago, without the technology we now enjoy? Really? We lack the ability? Or perhaps is it that we lack the political will…

Certainly this administration lacks the will.

And don’t expect the first African-American to head NASA, appointed by the first African-American elected President, to buck same president, or do anything that might make him look bad. To be fair, it could simply be the military side kicking in. One doesn’t publically disagree with one’s commander in chief. Ask Gen McCrystal. Who knows, perhaps in private he has fought for the Agency. One would certainly hope, as a former astronaut, that he has done so. But when the boss says “shut up and color”, you shut up and color – or resign and look for a new job.

It’s a shame though. NASA was the one civilian government agency that actually seemed to do something of benefit to the nation. Arguably, NASA has been an enormous driver in developing the technology we enjoy and take for granted today. Where in its role as an ego booster for the Muslim world will NASA continue to push the technology frontiers in the future?

One can argue whether or not the United States should be in the business of making Muslims feel good about themselves. But why should it be NASA’s role and mission to do so? If NASA is no longer to do Aeronautical and Space exploration, then perhaps it is time to abolish NASA.

If we must have a Muslim Feel Good Administration, then perhaps we should establish one. We certainly don’t need astronauts, rocket scientists, and engineers to accomplish that mission. Why not find a bunch of out of work community organizers and let them to the job? I know! We can hire Acorn!

Predictably, the administration, in the guise of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, has announced that Mr. Bolden “must have misspoken”, when he told Al Jazeera that one of his top priorities is to reach out Muslim countries. And predictably, in what is becoming an all too familiar pattern in this administration, this announcement came woefully after the fact. Really, it took nearly a month for the administration to react to this and come out with an official position that the good Mr. Bolden must have misspoken?

Personally, I find Mr. Gibbs denial that Bolden was asked to focus on Muslim outreach at all quite unbelievable. Bolden has said this at least twice; first in February, then again in June. Both times he is quoted as saying that he received his marching orders from the president. I have a hard time imagining that Bolden, a former Marine Corps general officer and shuttle pilot could have “misunderstood” what appears to be rather concrete direction from the Commander-in-Chief.

But then again, I take anything that Mr. Gibbs says with a grain of salt. I’m sure he is a nice guy and all that, but he is undeniably the sorriest excuse for a press secretary that I have seen during my short tenure on this Earth.

As for Mr. Bolden, his record speaks for itself. Whether or not he is an outstanding administrator, I cannot say. But he is definitely competent. And if he says the president gave him that direction, I believe him. And I believe he will carry out presidential direction regarding his agency to the best of his ability.

I just think that the direction he was apparently given is a bit odd, and not in keeping with the ostensible purpose of NASA in the first place.