Posted on July 5, 2010

[HT to Samiam60 at VotingFemale]

News of President Obama’s charge to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to reach out to Muslim nations first surfaced in February in the Orlando Sentinel – an appropriate vehicle in the opinion of many because it seems pure fantasy.

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has asked him to “find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries” as the White House pushes the space agency to become a tool of international diplomacy.

“In addition to the nations that most of you usually hear about when you think about the International Space Station, we now have expanded our efforts to reach out to non-traditional partners,” said Bolden, speaking to a lecture hall of young engineering students.

Specifically, he talked about connecting with countries that do not have an established space program and helping them conduct science missions. He mentioned new opportunities with Indonesia, including an educational program that examines global climate change.

“We really like Indonesia because the State Department, the Department of Education [and] other agencies in the U.S. are reaching out to Indonesia as the largest Muslim nation in the world. We would love to establish partners there,” Bolden said.

As a presidential candidate, Obama espoused a space program that invited more participation from the international community and Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver said recently that the next time NASA lands on the moon it would be part of an international exploration effort.

Bolden expanded on his remarks in an interview with al Jazeera last week:

In the interview, Bolden remarks that it is the American people who are hesitant about joint space exploration – that those nations involved with the international space station want American leadership.  But will Muslim nations want American leadership?

The Muslim nation with the most developed space program is of course Iran.

Outreach is valuable and to be encouraged to exchange scientific information and to keep appraised of new research.  It of course has a diplomatic component – anytime you interact with another country it is diplomacy on a certain level.

You could look at the situation from the standpoint of Associated Content:

This kind of approach fits neatly in the Obama administration’s view of America’s role in the world. No longer will the United States be considered as the sole super power, a unique, exceptional nation that all others should look up to. The United States will be just another country, no different, no better, and perhaps no worse than France or India.

There is a generous amount of truth in what has been said above.  But think of where we were during the cold war with the Soviets.  We have begun to cooperate and the international space station has been the result.

Ultimately, no single nation can afford to pay for a trip to Mars or even to have the scientific resources to develop the science to pull it off.  Obama’s refocusing of the NASA mission to deep space is not an unworthy goal.  The Chinese are planning a moon mission but listen to Bolden’s view of our chances of success in getting there again.

One thing that makes sense that Bolden does mention: going to an asteroid.  As he says, Mars will not hurt us, but  an asteroid would.  We need to know more about them.  He also mentions a robotic trip to examine if a potential threat is made of sand or metal.  Well, guess which government rolled out a new robot just the other day?  That’s right: Iran.

Having just made deep cuts in the NASA budget, the American people could tolerate extending a hand to work with Muslim nations and to remind many of their past contributions (this is an overdeveloped sense of their inability to know their own history however, I press on) were it to cost anything major. You cannot sacrifice an American job to an overseas diplomatic push without making a substantial case for how it would ultimately be of benefit to us.

The other caveat: we don’t need to exchange information in sensitive areas.  The Russians for one have already targeted these and we don’t need an assortment of nations vying with Russia for the honor of succeeding in cracking other of our codes.  Or do we?  Perhaps we could sell tickets.  Perhaps Geraldo Rivera could handle the event.

All of the aforementioned said, the fact remains that offering nations with whom we may or may not have good relations a stake in a flight to Mars can go a long way to correct perceptions and undue damage done to the relations in the past.  Does Iran really want to blow Israel off the map?  Of does Iran want to be the first nation to build a formidable rocket delivery system and orbiter?

Perhaps we do need to proceed with a little less American hubris and bravado and a bit more solid science.  This may be diplomacy but one needs to be careful that the diplomacy does not become a circus that devalues the science.  We will be holding up many of our own scientific advances for public scrutiny in the process and this may not work to our advantage.  We may find Iran has checked us.  They have been good at that in recent memory and no wonder.  Iran is one of three countries thought to have invented Chess. [Silk Road]