Tuesday, March 15, 2011

World Leaders Reach New Heights

Quite literally.

First, there was the news of the photo of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern-day Turkey, being flown to the orbit onboard the Discovery Shuttle. Pretty neat idea by a Turkish man, who responded to NASA's public call for photos (and/or names), submitting that of Turkey's much-revered founder.

Discovery Shuttle during its final mission, Feb-Mar 2011. Image courtesy of ZME science.

In a press release in mid-2009, NASA officials announced the invitation to fly pictures of members of the general public to space during the final missions of the Shuttle Program. Here's an excerpt:

"Visitors to the "Face in Space" website can upload their portrait to fly with the astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission and/or shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission. Participants will receive special certificates from the Internet site once the mission is completed.

"The Space Shuttle Program belongs to the public, and we are excited when we can provide an opportunity for people to share the adventure of our missions," said Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon. "This website will allow you to be a part of history and participate as we complete our final missions."

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Image from National Heroes on Ning.com.

So, Ali Rıza Özsaran, the man who submitted Atatürk's picture, was just one of the 307,122 participants from around the world. However, one cannot deny that the fact that he sent Atatürk's photo, and not his own (for instance) is significant. The unfortunate thing, however, is that - despite its great potential - the public diplomacy aspect of the story never actually materialized. The foreign media never picked up on it, and although I don't know whether Turkey's national and international broadcaster - TRT - ever paid any attention to the story, the domestic media don't seem to have really covered it, either. Oh well, Turkey can add it to the "missed opportunities in PD" list.

I, personally, would be curious to know if there were any photos of Jefferson or Franklin there... or even better: Putin, perhaps?

Speaking of him...

On Monday, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva signed a decree finally assigning a name to the nameless 4,446 m (14586 ft) high mountain in the Tian-Shan  Ridge. It's official: henceforth, the mountain will be called "Pik Vladimira Putina" (i.e. Vladimir Putin's Peak). As noted by Russia Today, the actual mountain is "2,500 times taller than Putin, the man" (kudos, for doing the math!).

The move comes a month after the Kyrgyz Parliament approved the suggestion, which was also supported by the government. Certainly, the opposition is unhappy, and there's quite a lot of controversy over the move.

Yet, I cannot help but emphasize its significance, not just in terms of it being an obvious demonstration of Russia's continuous influence (muscle?) over the region, but also in terms of its public diplomacy gain. Apparently, there already was a peak named after former President Yeltsin, but given Putin's "macho" image, this news can be viewed in a completely different light. After all, just as this Prime Time (on Russia Today) anchor noted, wouldn't it be cool to "climb Vladimir Putin today"? Or even better: "Hike on Puts"?!

RT never ceases to amaze me... and seems like it never will.


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