Streetwise Professor

July 5, 2010

NASA’s Mission to the (Crescent) Moon

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 10:25 am

Earlier this year, Obama announced the cancellation of NASA’s manned space programs, including a new manned moon mission.  He had more important things in mind for the space agency.  In an interview with Al Jazeera, part of an outreach initiative growing out Obama’s Cairo speech, NASA chief Charles Bolden said that Obama gave him three objectives:  First, inspiring more children to be interested in science and technology; second, building international relations, and, wait for it:

Third, and perhaps foremost, 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 contributions to science, math and engineering [emphasis added].

I am not kidding.  It is July 5, not April 1.  Don’t believe me, check out the interview (the quote is right at the beginning, around the 1:15 mark):

I am ambivalent about NASA, and government funded manned space travel.  I am not ambivalent about this drivel.  The first two “missions” that Obama charged Bolden with are juvenile (literally, in the first instance) and inane.  The third is utterly insane.  A pitch perfect paean to political correctness and therapeutic self-esteem politics.

If there is a case for NASA, it is that it invests in the creation of knowledge and technology that generates substantial spillovers: investments that would not be made otherwise either due to free rider problems, or the inability of private enterprises to finance investment at the efficient scale.  The missions that Obama charged Bolden with are about as far from this defensible mission as earth is from Alpha Centauri.

The Mission to the Crescent Moon is particularly grating.  Like most efforts ostensibly directed at improving the self-esteem of others, it is patronizing and condescending.  Moreover, it will be counterproductive because it plays right into some of the most self-destructive habits of thought prevalent in the Muslim world: habits of thought that encourage some to engage in other-destructive terrorism.

Specifically, the contrast between a mythical, glorious past and a squalid present naturally demands an explanation.  The prevalent explanation in the Muslim world is that it is the result of dark conspiracies hatched in the West: conspiracies of Christians, and especially Jews, to deny the followers of one true religion their rightful dominant place in the world.  Emphasizing past achievements (and probably exaggerating those) that far outstrip present ones as Obama charged Bolden to do can only feed the sense of grievance.

If anything, “dominantly Muslim nations” and their citizens could use a little less self-esteem, not more. Nothing feeds paranoia, alienation, and anger like an unrealistic self-regard at stark variance with true accomplishments.

NASA is not a social work organization.  It is not ACORN for science and math.  Its overriding purpose is to explore space.  If that doesn’t generate value that exceeds the cost, then shut it down.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by K Atherton, LEANN SEEHUSEN, R and others. R said: @VisedMonk Professor Pirrong wrote about it (NASA being turned into ACORN) today on his blog. I think you'll enjoy 🙂 […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Streetwise Professor » NASA’s Mission to the (Crescent) Moon -- — July 5, 2010 @ 11:13 am

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    Pingback by NASA-to reach out to the Muslims? (per Obama) - Politics and Other Controversies -Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - City-Data Forum — July 5, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  3. I doubt the third objective is going to cost much, even though it does sound fairly useless and just another form of Western cultural imperialism.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — July 5, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  4. What will be next? Mission for Army to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contributions to world peace? What’s the reaction to Obama’s another brainchild in America?

    Comment by deith — July 5, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  5. Yay for your first video post! I didn’t quite read it, but I approve of the multimedia nature of your post!

    Comment by Surya — July 5, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

  6. Apparently, the task is worth the budget.

    Comment by Misha Tavkhelidze — July 6, 2010 @ 1:44 am

  7. Next up, Afrocentrism in schools, no doubt. Because everyone is entitled to feel special.

    Comment by So? — July 6, 2010 @ 4:32 am

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