Bob Franken


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By now you’ve probably heard the sad news: NASA’s awesome Kepler space telescope is ending its mission. No longer will it be peeping into the far reaches of the universe trying to find other worlds and giving new meaning to the exclamation “Faaaaar out.” It has had a gyroscope failure, which means it can’t aim its lenses in the minutely precise way necessary to chart the cosmos. So the guys back at headquarters are soliciting ideas for ways to continue using Kepler.
First of all, thanks for asking, NASA. I know I speak for all Americans in saying that. Actually, they were seeking input from scientists and engineers, but surely they will welcome suggestions from those of us who are not experts, us Dumbos.
And sure enough, here’s one that is ridiculously obvious: Why not turn the whole thing over to the National Security Agency, spin it around and point the powerful lenses not at other planets, but at our own — specifically at the United States, where it can spy on us. Consider it a supplement to the existing programs, detailed by Edward Snowden.
For that matter, it also can be rented to major league baseball as it goes where every other sport has already gone before with instant replay. What? You haven’t heard? MLB is proposing a huge expansion of its existing but very limited program to allow for video second-guessing the umpires. It won’t be used for balls and strikes, but for most other calls. Whatever, if you rely on a recording, you will need a camera. Kepler, taping overhead, would be the perfect fit. It’s a match made in the heavens.

Not everybody loves the idea of instant replay for baseball, pointing out that it will slow down a game that already is as sluggish as the U.S. Senate. Come to think of it, maybe the time has come for political instant replay. How useful that would be when one of our leaders tries to back away from what he or she said. It would be ideal for the Supreme Court, an invaluable way to determine if the lawyers’ arguments were fair or foul. After all, Chief Justice John Roberts likened a judge’s role to being an ,”umpire” as opposed to the political ideologue many of us believe the Supremes really are, so replay should be useful once they allow cameras into their hearings. Which may be never.
You know who probably has some brilliant suggestions for utilizing Kepler? Newt Gingrich, of course. This is the man, after all, who as a presidential candidate pledged that if he was elected, there would be a lunar colony established by the year 2020. Ultimately, he projected that there would be 13,000 Americans living on the moon. At that point, he went on, “they can petition to become a state.” That probably frosted all the people here in Washington who have unsuccessfully fought for District of Columbia statehood, but Newt himself says we need “grandiose” ideas, such as his. So using a space telescope equipped with a recording device to keep track of his every comment on “Crossfire” makes sense. It’s easy to make fun of Gingrich, but his “grandiose” thinking has gotten him a gig co-hosting the program, which not only will pay him big bucks but also will position him for another presidential run. It’s just one of our unofficial revolving doors, like the one that departing members of Congress use to get lucrative lobbying work or the one that spins finance guys between the big banks and the Treasury Department. Similarly, failed presidential candidates gravitate to TV and keep their name recognition high until it’s time to make another run.
Clearly, using Kepler to observe this country is an appropriate new assignment. It has been trying to scope out worlds way out there, so why not focus on our leaders here, who are definitely from some other planet.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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