Ok, so, it seems an unmanned spaceship has landed on Mars.
And yet, to hear NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John P. Holdren describe the landing of the Curiosity Rover, it seems another, MUCH greater accomplishment has been achieved.
“Everybody should be sticking their chests out and saying ‘that’s my rover on Mars,’” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a livestream of the scene at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasenda, California.
“Even long odds are no match for America’s combination of technical acumen and gutsy determination,” said John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a news conference in Pasadena following the launch. “If anyone has doubts about U.S. leadership in space, there’s a one-ton piece of American ingenuity and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars and it should put any doubts to rest.”
These pronouncements so uncannily resemble the kind of rhetoric from the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s, when I read them I truly could not believe that they weren’t from that period. It seemed to me that Bolden and Holdren had either traveled through time, or they’d been locked up for years in some secret NASA lab, with no access to the outside world.
Seriously, it’s as if they were put in front of microphones and told, at the last minute, to substitute “Mars” for “the moon” in prepared remarks they’d planned to make in 1969.
Charles Bolden’s quote, reminded me of something I wrote back May, my response to news of the first spaceship made by a private company to have successfully docked to the International Space Station:
…JFK challenged the American people to come together in support of his lofty goal, and it truly did require the entire country’s participation, from taxpayer dollars to votes that kept legislators and executives in office who supported a national space program.
And, as I was growing up, like millions of other Americans, I was captivated by the media coverage of the Apollo missions, and later the earliest space shuttle missions. I watched the coverage with a sense of ownership — “Mom, Dad, WE put a man on the moon!”
But, all of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia evoked by Bolden is utterly spoiled by Holdren’s ridiculous American chauvinism, ridiculousness very quickly revealed by TPM‘s Carl Franzen, as he follows up the remarks about “America’s combination of technical acumen and gutsy determination” and “U.S. leadership in space” with this:
Although led by NASA, the mission was also an international scientific collaboration involving 400 scientists from seven different countries.
Listen, I admit I’m cynical about space exploration, but my cynicism has developed over many years, gradually taking the place of fond childhood memories of the Apollo missions, as I wrote back in May.
I don’t like being cynical, but the bombastic public statements REALLY turned me off, for the reasons I state above, not to mention the fact that, not only is this not the first mission to Mars, it’s not even the first unmanned rover mission!
In the past, dozens of spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and rovers, have been sent to Mars by the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe, and Japan to study the planet’s surface, climate, and geology…
- The first successful fly-by of Mars was on July 14–15, 1965, by NASA’s Mariner 4.
- On November 14, 1971 Mariner 9 became the first space probe to orbit another planet when it entered into orbit around Mars.
- In January 2004, the NASA twin Mars Exploration Rovers named Spirit (MER-A) and Opportunity (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars.
It’s one thing to try to keep the public interested and excited about publicly-funded space exploration, but to go to such lengths to manufacture excitement is at once embarrassing and insulting.