Renewal of space exploration
It’s exciting news that SpaceX, the private company that just sent a highly successful spaceship to dock with the International Space Station, wants to put a human on Mars in a dozen years.
Elon Musk, the CEO, made the announcement recently. The target is 10 to 15 years from now, he said, but 12 years sounds realistic.
It has been years since NASA had a credible goal of going anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. (The station is just 400 kilometers from our planet.) The shuttles are grounded and there’s no replacement vessel, nor even a firm plan to build one. The White House and Congress are lukewarm to commitments for funding a new spaceship, and NASA must now pay the Russians $50 million for each astronaut’s ride to space.
Astronauts also have to learn Russian (just as cosmonauts must learn English. The space station is bilingual.)
But it is now 41 years since a human last stood on the moon, and anyone who is serious about exploring space has to think big. That’s what took Apollo missions to the moon, and what inspired Yuri Gagarin before that.
SpaceX is an echo of the excitement of those days, when getting to the moon by a deadline was a priority. More to the point, it has the backing of an impressive list of NASA insiders, past and present. Canada’s own Chris Hadfield, who will command the space station, recently commented that “Dragon is really proving SpaceX’s capability,” after the successful mission of Dragon, an unmanned cargo ship.
Hadfield also told an interviewer recently that the space station’s role is partly to test technology for travelling deeper into space. While NASA won’t have a new rocket for at least a decade, it’s refreshing to see a private company offering to carry some of the burden.
Contaminated Arab politics
So turbulent are the politics of the Middle East that even the dead cannot rest in peace. As if Palestine was not the focus of enough attention already — with attempts to upgrade the Palestinian status at the United Nations coming to a boil, and tensions between Israel and Hamas still simmering after the back-and-forth bombardment of recent weeks — the administration in the West Bank has taken the bizarre step of unearthing the body of Yasser Arafat, symbol of the national struggle, in order to determine whether he was poisoned.
This strange episode is a sign of the extent to which politics across the Arab world has been contaminated — and corrupted — by conspiracy theory. If signs of poison are indeed found, the blame will immediately be put on Israel — ignoring the fact that Tel Aviv had every reason to keep the erratic and discredited Arafat alive and kicking. Then again, the absence of evidence has scarcely kept those in the Middle East from buying into conspiracy theories of any and every kind, usually with Israel and the United States as the culprits.
Such paranoia is not a uniquely Arab or Muslim phenomenon — witness the ludicrous claims that have been made about President Barack Obama. But it finds its most comfortable home in parts of the world that might otherwise have to blame themselves for their economic or social problems.
And the more widespread conspiracy thinking becomes, the more damage it does. It is tempting to laugh off those who insist that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job — but those in Nigeria and Pakistan who view polio vaccines as part of a secret Western sterilization program, to pick just one example, are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents. Better to bury the fantasies and conspiracies alongside Arafat’s corpse.
The Telegraph, London