Rich Cooper

Jul 6, 2010

Having worked as a NASA contractor and as an employee, I like to think there is not much that happens at America’s Space Agency that doesn’t surprise me. I was wrong. The recent Al Jazeera interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden had me staring into my Blackberry screen to make sure it was not another hilarious out-take by The Onion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t and, even the editors of The Onion had to be wondering, “Why is this guy encroaching into our turf?”

In the interview, Administrator Bolden shared that President Obama directed him to do three things:

One was 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 … and math and engineering.

Like any diehard space enthusiast, I am fully committed to boldly go where no one has gone before, but I never thought that meant catering to one ideology or theology.  

Despite the dramatic competition that was the space race to the moon in the 1960s, the human adventure in space has been one of the most transformational and compelling actions we have ever had. Every continent, country and people could take pride in some form of study of the stars, but to select one particular people and their religion and work “to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science… and math and engineering” is political pandering in the worst way.  

For all of the good intentions that may be in the President’s direction and Administrator Bolden’s heart for wanting Muslims “to feel good,” I’m more than certain that people of the Muslim religion are perfectly capable of feeling plenty of pride in their accomplishments in science, engineering, mathematics and so forth without the help of a U.S. government official.  

If you want people to feel good, respect them – don’t pander to them. People, no matter their religion or ideology are smart enough to realize when you respect them and when you are needlessly sucking up. No amount of pandering (and that’s what it is) by a senior Administration official is going to restore or improve the standing of America in the eyes of the Muslim world.

Having had the pleasure of working at NASA for many years, I can attest to the fact that if you wanted to feel good it was exceeding your requirements; doing the research and hard science; executing your mission and sharing the lessons learned with those who wanted to learn more about our universe as well. Those were (and remain) daily actions completed by Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other religions (or no religions) that were proudly part of the NASA team. Nowhere in any of those actions did it include pandering to any particular people or their faith. Adopting it as one of the “foremost” missions of the Agency is to boldly go where we don’t belong.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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