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The Americanization of the universe?

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House majority leader Tom DeLay, who ram-rodded congressional redistricting in Texas in 2003 to favor (who else?) Republicans, appears to want to redistrict the universe as an American preserve. And so, it seems, does NASA’s new administrator.

According to a CNN story, earlier this week, on a tour of Johnson Space Center with DeLay, NASA chief Michael Griffin said:

If you ask anyone in this country, ‘Do you believe that the United States should cede the moon to say the Chinese, Europeans, Russians, whoever?’ I bet you the answer would be, ‘No.’ “

DeLay backed that reading of NASA’s mission — defined by Griffin as a belief that a majority of people

want to make sure that as humankind expands into space the United States is there in the forefront.

So how do we pay for it? DeLay had no specifics but noted that war and federal budget pressures should be no barrier. He said:

We will provide the funding necessary to get us where we want to go. And hopefully we can do it in an expedited manner.

As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, “What you mean by we?”

DeLay, no doubt, was referring to Congress. Others, such as taxpayers, might protest loudly about another IRS tug on the wallet.

A few points …

First: Despite DeLay’s view that the necessary funding will be provided, the here-and-now status suggests NASA is fiscally incapable of keeping its current programs on schedule let alone embark on a jingoistic voyage to Mars and beyond.

Griffin’s message to Congress on May 12 suggests current programs will need to be “stretched,” according to the Sky and Telescope web site:

In a recent letter to Congress, Griffin noted that NASA’s budget for the current year falls about $2 billion short of what’s needed to keep all current programs on track. Reasons for the imbalance include cost overruns in the shuttle return-to-flight effort and in several space-science missions, congressionally mandated expenditures (“earmarks,” otherwise known as “pork”), and the resumption of preparations for servicing Hubble.

That pork — 168 to 170 congressional earmarks totaling from $426 million to $436 million, depending on who’s counting — are a hefty chunk of NASA’s $16.2 billion fiscal 2005 budget, according to the Washington Times. (Disclosure: My university is getting several million dollars of NASA money for a science building addition.)

So if DeLay wants to go to Mars and beyond (not a bad idea, eh?) bearing an American flag, he’ll have to tell his congressional chums to keep their mitts off NASA’s money.

And for DeLay, it appears, funding for NASA should sit above or at least side-by-side with paying for the American incursion into Iraq (nearly $300 billion and counting), dealing with the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, paying for the education of the record 49.6 million students in public schools, protecting the nation’s natural resources and … I’m sure you can fill in your own list.

Second: DeLay and Griffin’s America-uber-alles approach to space doesn’t match NASA’s historical approach to how Earth should be presented to the rest of the universe. The two Voyager spacecraft, launched in August and September 1977, carried a message from all of us, not just the “chosen few” of us. From JPL’s website:

The message is carried by a phonograph record – -a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages. (Emphasis mine)

Many observers argue that the heart of enmity toward America abroad, seen most cruelly and viciously in the Mideast, lies in American presumption and arrogance. This America-first approach to the universe only adds to that.

Hope the little green people out there are friendly. DeLay won’t be able to redistrict them into his Houston base where NASA operates with his full support.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 4, 2005 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. To the moon, Alice. To the moon…..
    When JFK challenged us to go to the moon, it was one of the most inspirational moments in American history in the last half of the 20th Century.
    Now, talk of the space program gets bogged down in talk about funding and budgets and territoriality. President’s Bush’s Mars initiative got laughed at and then quietly back-burnered. Science seems worthwhile only if it’s sexy and makes for good PR (can you believe ME griping about that?).
    I agree with you, Denny, that an arrogant attitude toward space exploration isn’t going to get us anywhere. We should lead not because of a sense of entitlement but from a sense of responsibility.


    June 9, 2005 at 5:36 am

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