The Master Mind at Work

The Master Mind*, a very stable genius, tweets:


Along with nearly everyone else, I’m confused. Did Trump just pull the plug on NASA’s program to return to the Moon, a program he previously supported? Does Trump believe the Moon is part of Mars?

Those who try to make sense of these things have learned to look at the time stamp on Trump’s tweets, then check to see what was on Fox News earlier in the day. This segment, with Neil Cavuto interviewing a NASA spokesman, aired about an hour before Trump sent his tweet:


A charitable interpreter would say what Trump meant was that NASA should focus its public relations campaign on the Mars mission and talk less about the necessity of first returning to the Moon. To frame, in other words, returning to the Moon as part of the Mars mission.

A charitable interpreter would assume Trump grasps the necessity of returning to the Moon and setting up a sustainable base there, a base that will serve as proof-of-concept for a long mission to Mars, a base that will eventually be a staging area for Mars missions. After all, wasn’t it just last month that Trump asked Congress for an extra $1.6 billion so that NASA could accelerate the return of astronauts to the Moon? If Trump considers returning to the Moon important enough to push for doing it by 2024 (while, should he “win” a second term, he’ll still be in office and can claim credit) instead of NASA’s original 2028 target, how do we reconcile that with yesterday’s tweet?

There’s just no way charity works here. Trump doesn’t know what he wants. He sees something on Fox News and starts thumbing away on his iPhone. Maybe he realizes he won’t live long enough to claim credit for going to Mars, and the air’s going out of his balloon. I think his enthusiasm for manned space missions in general, never mind missions to the Moon and Mars, is right up there with his enthusiasm for repairing the nation’s infrastructure, which he’s going to get to any day now. Right.

In fact, I don’t think any Republican administration, given what the GOP has become, will ever get us back to the Moon, never mind Mars. But that’s a topic for another post.

What disturbs me more about Trump’s tweet is the part at the end where he tells NASA to focus on “Defense.” NASA’s mission is to “Drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of Earth.” That last bit is a watered-down substitute for “to understand and protect the home planet,” a phrase purged from the mission statement by the Bush administration in 2006 to stop NASA scientists from warning about the effects of human-caused climate change. NASA still gets to think about how to defend the Earth from extinction-event asteroids headed our way, but that’s not what Trump means. He’s talking about the military use of space—shooting down enemy satellites, putting nuclear missile launch platforms into orbit, and the like—and clearly pictures NASA as part of his planned Space Force. NASA employees, if they want to keep their jobs, can’t challenge Trump on this.


And now a related development, also from yesterday: the White House blocked a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony warning Congress that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic.”

I watched the fifth and last episode of the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” last night, the episode featuring the state trial of the men who were in charge of the nuclear plant and were responsible for blowing it up, the episode where it becomes clear to viewers how and to what extent the Soviet Union (and its successor government in Russia) covered up what actually happened.

And I’ve got to tell you, I’m having trouble seeing much difference between the USSR’s handling of the Chernobyl disaster and the USA’s handling of the unfolding climate change disaster.
 
 
*The title of this post was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1928 science fantasy novel “The Master Mind of Mars.”

© 2019, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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