Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Should NASA be helping America build bridges with the rest of the world? Yes!

This past week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden took some heavy fire from right wing talk show hosts for an interview he did with Al Jazeera where he said:
When I became the NASA Administrator, (President Obama) charged me 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.
Immediately, conservatives jumped on this, declaring that it was just more evidence proving that President Obama is secretly a Muslim and is bent on destroying the United States from within. The talking heads on FNC (ahem, Charles Krauthammer) and elsewhere are once again just trying to needlessly scare people.

They seem to be against international cooperation because they are afraid that it will result in us losing our edge in military and industrial technology.

Never mind the fact that we've long had a partnership with the Russian Space Agency, and that during the grounding of the shuttle fleet, we were relying on Russian spacecraft exclusively to resupply the International Space Station.

Furthermore, our astronauts will once again be relying on Russian spacecraft to venture into space once our shuttle fleet is retired, because we don't have a replacement for the shuttle program ready yet.

So what were Bolden's comments to Al Jazeera really about?

Perhaps his comments reflected the reality that after several decades, we finally have an administration capable of understanding that science and technology are best used to improve people's lives.

Environmental science and sustainability research, in particular, promise to help us one day find enough food and clean water for everyone.

Science, in general, is about finding the answers to all those basic questions children everywhere wonder the answers to. Like, "Why is the sky blue?", "Are we truly alone in the universe?" or "Where did that come from?"

Islamic children ask the same questions that Christian and Jewish children do. It is a mistake to think that scientists only inhabit one hemisphere or continent. We need only look to history to see that Islamic scientists are responsible for many of the world's great scientific advances.

For instance, during the European Dark Ages, when philosophers of the age were being threatened or even burned at the stake for merely suggesting that the Earth might not be at the center of the universe, the Islamic world was taking and preserving the great astronomical and other scientific works of the ancient world that had survived at Alexandria. This painstakingly difficult task protected centuries of work that then became the foundation for the Age of Reason in Europe.

When Issac Newton talked about his work only being possible because he had 'stood on the shoulders of giants', he didn't just mean European scientists.

The people of the Middle East didn't magically lose their desire to know and understand the world around them. Rather, their thirst for knowledge has been suppressed through centuries of oppression, fear, and the darkness of superstition: we've even been seeing these desires emerging in the new generations of Iranians. This is not just in the protests and marches that took place during the Iranian election several months ago, but even within their own scientific community.

Iran has established its own space agency with the stated intent of achieving human spaceflight. In February 2009 the ISA launched its first domestically made satellite named "Omid," the Persian word for "Hope". Now, I don't believe that Iran's current theocratic leadership is well-intentioned.

Still, what this means to me more is that even inside of Iran there is this hope and desire to know more about the universe and to have a better life.

There's nothing wrong with building bridges through science and technology. During the height of the Cold War, we brought the "Space Race" to an end by cooperating with the Soviet Union to successfully complete the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. That was a major milestone.

We need to reach out to peoples of other nations if we are ever to achieve any true amount of homeland or global security.

As I've just pointed out, the concept of ideologically disparate countries coming together over space missions isn't a new idea.

By signaling our interest in peaceful, scientific collaboration, we are showing that we respect and wish to work with the Islamic world, rather than trying to destroy and convert it. This puts pressure on their clerical leaders and emboldens the people of countries like Iran to believe in progressive, American ideals like freedom.
"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold- brothers who know now they are truly brothers."

— Archibald Macleish, after Apollo 8 reached the Moon
We are all better off working together than trying to kill each other.


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