In a June 30 interview with al Jazeera, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that his "perhaps foremost mission" is 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." Mr. Bolden denied that his feel-good mission was purely diplomatic, claiming, "there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim nations."
What's unclear is what Mr. Bolden believes the United States has to gain by reaching out to a part of the world that has been technologically stagnant for centuries.
The Muslim world has nothing to offer the United States as a space-faring nation. If anything, America should be discouraging Middle East space programs. Iran has the most advanced space initiative in the region and claimed to have launched a satellite in February. It's a short step from putting satellites in space to being able to do the same with warheads. Given that Iran is on the verge of nuclear-weapons capability, the upbeat message from NASA seems ill-advised.
Islam's meager contribution to human technological advancement is no accident. In his new book "The Closing of the Muslim Mind," former Voice of America director Robert Reilly describes the brief flourishing of intellectualism in Muslim Spain 1,000 years ago before it was brutally suppressed by religious extremists. They imposed a continuing Islamic orthodoxy that is hostile to rational thought and to the scientific method. According to this view, the only knowledge required for human existence is contained in the Koran and the life and sayings of Muhammad. Pursuing any knowledge beyond that is at best a waste of time, at worst a capital offense. Classical books of knowledge were burned, the few Muslim philosophers and scientists were banished and the stage was set for centuries of scientific decline. The small number of discoveries credited to that part of the world since the Middle Ages came principally from conquered peoples.
Mr. Bolden kept a sunny tone in his wide-ranging interview, but the underlying message was that the United States is a space power in decline. He praised the fact that other countries are ramping up their space programs even as America retreats. "That really excites me," he said. "It excites President Obama." While Russia, China, Japan, India and other countries are using their space programs to inspire their people as President Kennedy did in 1961, Mr. Bolden stresses America's limits. He said that the United States cannot travel beyond low Earth orbit on its own, that the country cannot make it to Mars without international help. He also blamed the Bush administration for funding cuts he said necessitated canceling the Constellation moon mission, regardless of the orgy of spending wasted on make-work programs in the Obama administration's first year.
Mr. Bolden pledges to "reinvigorate the vision," but it's hard to see how that can be done while zeroing out manned space flight. Fivee decades ago, President Kennedy called for the nation to commit itself to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade as part of an effort "to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny." Mr. Bolden, by contrast, compared the competition in space to the World Cup - the teams play hard on the field then "go have a beer together." Ultimately, though, only one team goes home with the trophy. The Obama administration will make America even less competitive in space than it is on the soccer field.
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