Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a Tuesday story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars.
Nye looked upon NASCAR and sneered, “Here I am trying to envision the smart, efficient transportation technology of tomorrow, and there is NASCAR celebrating a very old transportation technology of yesterday. You might call NASCAR the anti-NASA.”
In this case, NASA displayed considerably more political street smarts than Nye, whose affront against NASCAR seems more cultural than technological. A few years ago, the space agency set up an exhibit at a race to educate the fans about what wonders it has wrought.
“Fans visited Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., expecting to only see their favorite NASCAR drivers, but NASA revved up its science engines and brought the race to a whole new level.
“Fans learned about the successful landing of the Mars Science Lab (MSL) Curiosity rover and the differences between a space shuttle tire and a race car tire. They were also able to see how NASA plays a key role in automobile and racing industries whether it be automobile brakes or engine cooling systems.
“NASA’s Learning Environments & Research Networks (LE&RN) education program, Rockets to Racecars (R2R), collaborated with Virginia 529 and the Science Museum of Virginia to bring NASA exhibits and hands-on activities that were open to the public to help educate visitors about science and NASA missions.”
The idea that fans of big, fast cars would also like big, fast rockets is a no-brainer if one thinks about it for half a second. Nye was not only wrong on the facts but was very maladroit politically. If one wants people to support NASA and, presumably, more funding for the space agency, the last thing one should do is to insult them. That fact is especially true if, like Nye, one projects a kind of Sheldon Cooper style prissiness, looking down his nose at the hoi polloi and lecturing them about what they should and should not like. One wonders why Nye is allowed to be the face of science and space exploration if he behaves like that.