Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

It all started with this tweet from NBC News:

In response, Greta Van Susteren tweeted this:

Just in case you missed what happened, here is the last paragraph in the NBC article:

Though the encounter took place more than 10 months ago, New Horizons is still beaming flyby data home, and likely won’t be done doing so until this coming fall, mission team members have said.

For a little more background, Pluto is over 3 billion miles from earth.

NASA’s New Horizons probe, launched in January 2006, has only just gotten to Pluto after a voyage spanning some three billion miles. Leaving Earth at 36,000 mph and covering at least three quarters of a million miles per day throughout its odyssey, it has still taken the spacecraft nine and a half years to reach its target.

It is difficult to make sense of three billion miles in terms of human experience. After all, at Interstate Highway speeds, it would take a car nearly 4,900 years to cover the same distance. Put another way, three billion miles is the equivalent of flying around the Earth 120,000 times.

You can read all the “techie” information about what it takes to get high resolution images from New Horizons here. In answer to the specific question of how long it takes to send a photo of Pluto to Earth, here ya go.

Radio signals traveling at the speed of light take 4.5 hours to travel between Pluto and Earth. So, data received from New Horizons will have been on the road for about as long as it takes to drive between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Because of that, it will take about 16 months for all of New Horizons’ flyby data to make it to Earth—meaning that new discoveries will be trickling in through the end of 2016.

To be honest, I didn’t know any of this information until today. That’s what just a few minutes with our friend Google can do for you.

The point is, Van Susteren obviously did none of that. It doesn’t even look like she read to the end of the article she tweeted about. And yet she used her platform to spin the age-old tale about the inefficiency of government in spending our tax dollars. There are those who would suggest that Greta is one of the more reasonable celebrities at Fox News – and that is probably true. But she is a lawyer-turned-journalist who has adopted a frame of reference about government programs and then jumps on any bandwagon that promotes it without checking her own ignorance on the topic. That is as good of an example as I’ve seen to explain why we can’t have nice things.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.