Gaffes & ET's & Sea Turtles, Oh My!

On This past week’s podcast Gina, Mark, Sawyer and I discussed several stories including one issue last week that just will not going away. Alas the podcast that we dutifully recorded did due to technical issues, so I’ll at least present my point of view on the now infamous statement that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made on the Al Jazeera Television Network this past July 4th weekend concerning NASA and the Muslim world.

To recap, on July 2, Administrator Bolden made the following comments:

"When I became the NASA administrator, (President Obama) charged me with three things," Bolden said in the interview which aired last week. "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." 

When I heard that my first impression was did Bolden REALLY say that? That CAN’T be right! The thought that NASA’s prime focus should be making another region of the world feel good about their “historic contribution to science, math, and engineering." is ludicrous. Countries in the Middle East HAVE a rich science and mathematics history, one they should already feel proud about. The Ancient Library of Alexandria, Egypt held all of the knowledge and literature of the ancient world. The Library also served as a research institute, a sort of “Menlo Park”or "Bell Labs" of its day. It was the epicenter of science and research before it was destroyed in 637 AD. Its last curator was a philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer named Hypatia. She taught, published and moved unselfconsciously though a world where women were considered property and had very few options afforded to them. Dr. Carl Sagan in his book “Cosmos” relates the story of the Ancient Library of Alexandria and its tragic fall.  And just for the record, we don’t call our number system "Arabic Numerals" for nothing.

My first impulse: There is enough uncertainty going on with NASA’s future right now, why is Charles Bolden running around other countries on some sort of stealth diplomatic mission instead of staying home and taking care of the issues that threaten to destroy NASA’s human space flight program? If he want’s to do this kind of thing send a deputy administrator and concentrate on things that count. Bolden may have been doing the bidding of the White House, and if you are not working on what the boss tells you to work on, well you aren’t working. However, the controversy surrounding the future of human space flight in this nation is a raging fire that threatens to consume NASA. Before we start extending “olive branches”, let’s take care of our own house first. It would be nice if we still had a human space flight program here in the US that these countries could partner with.

Boldens comments unleashed a political firestorm. The Political Right went apoplectic and the Left merely yawned. Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan called on Bolden to resign if Bolden truly believed that NASA’s main purpose was to make Muslim nations feel good about contributions to Science. Bob Jacobs NASA ‘s Deputy Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs stepped later to put out the fire, indicating Administrator Bolden was referring to NASA’s new outreach objectives and NOT NASA’s primary reason for being. His comments, reassuring as they were, have doused the flames a little but not by much.

The issue came up at the July 6 State Department press brief and they were caught dumbfounded.  It got so bad that this past Monday (7/12) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs s had to come out and say “That (Muslim outreach) was not his task (Bolden) and that's not the task of NASA," Even though Bolden had said that he was given that task by the Obama Administration on two separate occasions once in February and again in June. The “Gaffe” as we called it on the recording, is unfortunately still reverberating through the mainstream press even this week. Instead of examining the real issues at NASA, the mainstream media seems to want to continue to throw this verbal faux pas around.  Let’s stop the madness already and move on to try and solve the issues that threaten to destroy human spaceflight here in the United States.

The last External tank #138 has been delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for integration into shuttle mission STS 134. It was a proud but sad moment for the workers at the Michoud Assembly Facility.  U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana spoke at the ceremony that commemorated the achievements of the Michoud team. He congratulated them but also blasted President Obama's vision for NASA. Senator There was loud applause in the crowd when Senator Vitter said "You all deserve better, and the nation deserves better. " We do. While there are no objections to trying to bolster a sagging private launch industry, invest in new technologies, and refitting launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center, what’s missing is what we’re going to do with those newly developed technologies. Maybe we’ll go to an asteroid or maybe an Apollo 8 style fly-by of Mars, but we need to get rid of the “maybes”. NASA needs a clear cut defined goal and not an Apollo-style one either. It has to be a goal that sets an achievable objective and builds on that objective.  

NASA also conducted a launch recently. Not the customary launch that we’ve come to know, complete with fire and thunder. This one was quite and had to be kept that way so as not to disturb the participants!  As reported by a NASA in a press release dated July 15, two groups of Kemps Ridley sea-turtles that faced a certain death as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have been had released into the Atlantic Ocean waters around the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge in which the Kennedy Space Center resides. According to a NASA press release, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service, NOAA, FedEx and conservationists are relocating the turtles to KSC to help the save the sea turtle hatchlings from impacts of the oil spill. It’s hoped as many as 700 turtle nests can be relocated to a temperature controlled hangar at KSC where the nests will be carefully monitored before releasing the sea turtles into the Atlantic.

Several sources report that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood but due to the BP oil spill these turtles stood zero chance of survival were they were. Nancy Atkins at Universe Today also reported that six Brown Pelicans, four laughing gulls, and a common tern were also given a chance to call KSC home. Kudos to NASA and to all the agencies and volunteers involved in this worthwhile endeavor. We wish the sea turtles and new residents at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge all the best!