Monday, November 05, 2007

The bridge so far

By Carol Gee

NASA's space shuttle "Discovery" (Mission STS-120) has backed away from the International Space Station (ISS). It will be back home to earth on Wednesday. Crew members' said their emotional good-byes to each other yesterday, men and women alike expressing great respect and admiration for each other's capacities and dedication to hard work. To quote from MSNBC,

Tearful farewells
The 10 astronauts aboard the station and shuttle bid each other tearful farewells Sunday before closing the hatches to prepare for Discovery’s departure.

It was an especially poignant goodbye for astronaut Clayton Anderson, who is headed home after five months in orbit. He was replaced on the station by Daniel Tani, who is starting a two-month mission.

The two commanders, Whitson and the shuttle’s Pamela Melroy, also were teary-eyed as they hugged one another. They are the first women to simultaneously manage two spacecraft in the 50-year history of spaceflight.

To do the very dangerous and intensely challenging work of space flight takes the best they have to offer, but they have not had long to savor success. Today is Monday and back to work for everybody up there and down here. Incidentally, I totally realize my job as a blogger is child's play compared to those admirable astronauts'.

"Cooperation and teamwork bring success to NASA" was the title of yesterday's post. Today's post will bridge from the enthralling (for me, at least) world some 200+ miles up to the earth-bound tangle of current events. One of my regular blog friends gave me a wonderful opportunity to write it because of his comment. To quote The Future Was Yesterday, who said:

As I've said here before, that program leaves me in awe. But it also leaves me depressed at times. We can do that, in conjunction with so many other countries, and do it so well, but we can't figure out a way out of a meaningless desert war that is sucking our very life blood out of our national body?

"Future's" rhetorical question was thought provoking and very pertinent. Here is part of what I replied:

Future, I have often had that same sadness. You put your finger on it perfectly. . . It is a valid point that I want to explore more at length. Thanks for this opportunity to make a "bridge."

To continue -- think about what the current administration's incredibly inept policies have left behind all over the Middle East and elsewhere in this tiny world of ours. Compare it to the performance of the world's space programs.

  • NASA astronauts were chosen from many among competitors. They get the best. George W. Bush emerged from a very competitive election because of arbitrary decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. Untrained for the job, his poor performance as Texas governor was not widely enough known for the election to be decisive. We did not get the best for the job.

  • After becoming astronauts, these men and women prepared and trained to do the well-planned tasks of their mission. Then multiple unexpected crises appeared, which they handled by fact-finding and then changing course with a new plan. Training and massively cooperative teamwork around the world on the ground made the success possible. On the other hand, after becoming our current president (OCP), Mr. Bush had no clue, no plan. However, he had an overly active Vice-President who had a plan, always a secret from the rest of us. The administration's responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 involved going it alone, though the world was ready to cooperate and help. We are still going it alone and making it up despite the facts.

  • NASA's method of operation has been relatively transparent, within a budget and generally accountable. Misbehaving astronauts are let go. The agency has had to make do with what it has in a starved budget. The administrator has to go before an angry Congressional committee to explain a botched airline safety report. Mission program managers are questioned daily (live) by members of the Press. Astronauts are questioned as they orbit, by the press and sometimes by their very tactful and supportive managers. They know how to take direction in public. OCP and the Veep operate behind closed doors, without regard for the budget process or deficits, and few in his administration have been held accountable. Rarely forthcoming before Congress or the Press, this administration uses obfuscation, deception, testimonial filibustering and selective press leaks to communicate with those outside the White House. Their methods do not signify that grown-ups are in charge here.

  • The world seems generally committed to the cooperative peaceful occupation of Space. Russia and the U.S. had to admit to each other that they could not get along without each other in pulling off these dicey and dangerous missions. Not only that, but all the cooperating space partners have to put an enormous amount of trust in their foreign partners. They trust their lives to each other as people. They are forced to trust the performance of another's plans, technology and equipment. And they all pitch in together when things go awry. The only reason doors are locked is to keep out the vacuum of space. Translators help with language mix-ups. Items are bartered between national budgets. People are stationed in foreign lands for years at a time, but as workers not occupiers. In stark contrast, however, OCP and the current administration seem generally committed to the perpetual occupation of the Middle East. Iraq and the U.S. cannot admit that things are not working out well between us in a dicey and dangerous war. Mistrust across and within borders is absolutely rife. The U.S. trusts and does not verify in countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The U.S. mistrusts the internal dynamics in Iran and Palestine when the opposite would do better. And we have never but enough attention to engaging Iraq's neighbors as part of the solution, rather that becoming permanent armed occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan. One would think that we wanted to be more successful with war than with diplomacy.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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