Wednesday, 7 July 2010
In June NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was in Cairo, Egypt where he gave an interview to the Al Jeezera television network. Near the start of the interview, when asked why he was in Egypt, Boldin said that his goals included finding "a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering. "
This apparently polite and innocuous reply to a local audience has provoked a furious knee-jerk response from armchair astronauts (and sadly, in the case of Gene Cernan, a real astronaut). Blogs and other websites created by US space enthusiasts have included wild accusations of stupidity, cowardice, "selling out to the enemy" and other failings to Bolden. Comments on one site included stuff like
"(NASA is) being run by incompetant (sic) jackasses like Bolden and whatever MORON installed him in that position. Telling Americans that we are incapable of doing what our ancestors did, and begging for help from those who would see us destroyed, is not the job of the NASA administrator"
"Reaching out to Muslims is going to result in Muslims having access to the information to strike out on our scale. I cannot imagine anyone with a normal view of daily life who would want to provide them with that."
Few seem interested in listening to Bolden's actual words, lifting words without context from a 20 minute interview , or applying any rational analysis to them, preferring outrage to what they think he said and to direct mindless anger and spite towards Bolden (a former astronaut and combat pilot) and his boss, President Obama.
The space community ought to be a forward-looking group which celebrates education and peaceful exploration (remember "we came in peace for all mankind"?), but this unseemly fuss has revealed some ugly streaks of deliberate ignorance and prejudice in its ranks.