Earlier this week America by Heart, the latest book by former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, hit store shelves. The book, as it turns out, spends a little over a page talking about space policy—or, more accurately, contrasting the policies of the 1960s with what she considers the diminished horizons of today.
“I wasn’t yet born when John F. Kennedy pledged in 1961 to land a man on the moon within the decade,” begins the passage in question, on page 163. (If you haven’t purchased or borrowed a copy, the easiest way to access this section is to use Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” feature for “NASA”, then scroll up a page to catch the beginning of the relevant section.) She then describes watching the Apollo 11 landing on a black-and-white TV set. “As with Theodore Roosevelt, JFK’s ambition to put a man on the moon perfectly captured a nation that feared neither hard work nor failure.”
Today’s “national leaders”, though, she claims, lack “Kennedy’s confidence and brio”. “Instead of announcing ambitious new goals for the space program, we have the head of NASA telling Arab television that his agency’s ‘foremost’ goal, according to President Obama’s instruction, 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 and math and engineering.'” That’s a reference, of course, to NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s now-infamous interview with al-Jazeera.
The passage, though, doesn’t mention that the administration later said that Bolden misspoke and that such outreach was not NASA’s primary mission. It’s also unclear, from Palin’s claim that the administration hasn’t declared “ambitious new goals for the space program”, whether she is unaware of NASA’s new direction, including the goals announced by President Obama in his April 15th speech at the Kennedy Space Center, or if she doesn’t consider them sufficiently ambitious.
Hearing this new rationale for our space program had us scratching our heads. What? Holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” with Muslim countries? What does that have to do with our once proud and pioneering space program? One of my kids heard the NASA change in direction and shook her head. “It’s like that Sesame Street song, Mom,” she said. “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you guess which thing doesn’t go with the others…?”
This may well be the first time Sesame Street has been invoked in the ongoing debate about NASA.
“How condescending to Muslims. How sad for America,” she concludes. “And how unsurprising coming from a man who is himself one of the leading exemplars of the new culture of self-esteem.”