Push back on NBC
October 14, 2012
Today, I was riveted in front of my computer to watch the live broadcast of the high altitude jump by Felix Baumgartner. It took me back to the day when as a middle school student I had watched astronauts walk on the moon live on a black and white television. Felix executed a controlled experiment, carried out methodically after seven years of well-defined preparations. The highest altitude and the fastest fall were among the firsts to explore for mankind.
There was no desire for an adventure, all had to remain under control, a complete checklist was carried out during the mission, the outcome was a successful landing. Of course there were unknowns to be explored, data to be collected, hence the experiment. A whole team of trained minds had been assembled to collaborate in making history, to design a variety of equipment ranging from the spacesuit to the balloon to sensors for scientific experiments to cameras in order to see through that challenge.
Now retired Joe Kittinger, the distinguished USAF pilot who held the record for the highest jump since 1960, was his voice link at the mission control. Dr. Jonathan Clark, the husband of the late Columbia shuttle astronaut Laurel Clark, was the medical director on the team. Dr. Clark had been on the SCSIIT (Spacecraft Crew Survival Integrated Investigation Team) assembled by NASA in 2004 to investigate the ways astronauts might survive a crippled spacecraft in the future. The least that a person on the street could have done was to have some humility, to shut up and to learn from the experiment.
However when I clicked haplessly on a news piece on the MSNBC website hoping for new information, I found NBC’s Mike Taibbi, categorizing Felix among "history’s other daredevils in search of fame, not heroes risking all for others or even for a noble idea." In the same breath, Mike was juxtaposing Felix whose achievement he framed as a one shot wonder to be admired, with the space shuttle astronauts who were "the best of us, the hopes of mankind testing the limits of human achievement."
Mike was so off the mark and sounded so ignorant about how integrated and linked the two were, it was mind boggling. Neither this person, nor his producers, nor their minions who had assembled his contrarian statement probably days in advance of the jump for purposes of boosted ratings, could connect the dots. They had missed an opportunity to educate their audience.
Felix had just jumped from the edge of space becoming the first skydiver to break the sound barrier. There was poetry in the fact that 65 years earlier on the same date in 1947, Chuck Yeager had piloted the Bell X-1 rocket plane to become the first person to achieve supersonic speed. Yet Mike was belittling Felix as a daredevil who would be forgotten tomorrow. Thanks to what we learned from this mission by Felix, the future astronauts will perhaps have a way to jump off a failed spaceship to survive and will not have to burn with such a ship upon reentry into the earth's atmosphere. Shouldn’t Mike be asking instead whether Felix will be remembered along with John Glenn, a pioneer of space exploration, or with Chuck Yeager, a wizard of flight who was the first to break the sound barrier?
It is such deliberate cynicism, such closed-minded babble, such willful ignorance from his kind in the media that corrupts the social conscience about what is possible for mankind. These forget that their amplified voice on the public airwaves is a privilege to be handled responsibly. They act as kingmakers, they promote their own cronies, they categorize the public into winners and losers, and they insult our intelligence in doing so. If an accomplishment is so grand that it defies being ignored, they carry on to denigrate the same, becoming parasites to share the spotlight. They trip us, they stand in our way; they corrupt our minds about our limits as humanity, about our future.
It is our duty as explorers, as parents, as educators, as role models to combat this insidious anti-science venom with equal passion, to push back with all the power that we can muster. We cannot let the cynics clip our wings, shape our destiny, define our future, or deflate our desire to explore our boundaries, be it in space, or at the depths of oceans, or under miles of rock in a cave, or among mounds of encyclopedias in a library.
I will let you be the judge. Here is the pathetic piece that they produced on Felix's momentous undertaking which took years to set up and only minutes to execute:
... Reflection: A daredevil's endeavor