By Arab News
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
To us, every new gadget is a fiction, because we know only to buy and use it
In the year 1899, the vacuum cleaner was invented. And after that, Charles Duell, the commissioner of the US patent office declared that everything that can be invented has been invented. And until July 20, 1969, some people confused Nassau (the capital of the Bahamas) with NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration). And when Apollo landed on the Moon on that date, a lot of people thought it was a Hollywood stunt. Was it Neil Armstrong wearing the space suit or was it John Wayne? I have seen the Moon landing on an 8 mm film when I was a child at a summer activity center at one of Aramco schools in Saudi Arabia.
NASA stretched the human capability to another limit. I was at Kennedy Space Center (Florida) on April 12, 1981 when the first space shuttle (Columbia) was launched. At that time I was in my mid-20s. And I said to myself: Everything that can be done by NASA has been done. My interest in NASA increased because watching the shuttle lift off is a different experience. And a few years after the shuttle launch, came the mobile phones and the road maps were replaced by GPS. Sextant disappeared from the naval navigators collections. And the American Highway AT&T public pay phones were transferred to antique museums. And we didn’t laugh any time when we watch old episodes of Get Smart and see Maxwell Smart make a phone call using his phone in his shoes.
In later years, my interest in what NASA did and what NASA can do took a personal turn. Because every time there is a space shuttle launch, I would say, I know the guy with the shuttle’s ignition key. A schoolmate of mine who graduated a few years after I did from the same school (New York Maritime College) is a NASA astronaut and a shuttle commander. His name is Scott Kelly. If the name does ring a bell, then he is a twin brother of NASA astronaut and shuttle commander Mark Kelly, whose wife is Arizona Congress Woman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in a sad and tragic assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011. As a matter of fact, when I sent a sympathy note by e-mail to my schoolmate Scott Kelly about his sister-in-law, he received my e-mail when he was on a mission aboard one of NASA’s space shuttles going to the international space station.
I went to NASA you-tube and watched my schoolmate looking at his computer; was he reading my e-mail? For NASA, this is science fact. Well, months later NASA retired all the space shuttles. By NASA’s standard, they were outdated. How can anyone call the space shuttle an outdated machine? Is it because it flew backward in order to slow down when in space and it doesn’t have a rear view mirror?
On Nov. 26, 2011, NASA simply changed science fiction to science fact. Now, Mars is on NASA’s agenda, and NASA will spend $2.5 billion on a 3-meter long vehicle named Curiosity. The vehicle is slower than a turtle, and it will land on Mars after a 36-week journey through space. NASA had more effects on the human race beyond any human’s imagination. NASA changed our lives and how we think.
When I think of what NASA accomplished, then I always ask myself about the Arabs’ accomplishments in modern times. We still didn’t invent any new modern gadgets. And we are still living in the past. Yet we always brag about our inventions and discoveries hundreds of years ago. The Arab world had the best opportunities to advance well ahead of a lot of nations. But, we wasted our resources on failed projects. We saw billions of dollars disappear because of widespread corruption, and these billions should have been used for medical and science research. To the Arabs, every new gadget is a science fiction, because we know how to buy and use, but not how to invent. When we measure the gap between NASA and any Arab educational institute, then the gap is so huge, you would think the number is science fiction.
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim can be reached at: [email protected]