Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Science, Making NASA real, part 1

Science, Making NASA real, part 1
When I was a child, and yes, I’m showing my age, the big news in science was the race to the moon. For children of that era, the Moon was the unattainable, and yet it was the dream of an entire country. Our president at the time, John F. Kennedy had laid a challenge before the American people, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” He gave the speech on September 12, 1962.

For those of us who were children then, the race to the moon became a focal point. Our parents ensured that every portion of the manned space flight program that was televised was a family event, we all stopped whatever we were doing and gathered around the television set. We were allowed to stay up late the night in July of 1969 when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. It was eight years, one month and twenty six days after Kennedy spoke to Congress, and presented the Congress and the American people with achieving one of the most monumental scientific milestones in the history of mankind.

For us, space, exploration, and NASA were all very real.

Even in the last 30 years of the 20th century space technology was real in the form of space shuttle missions, and the singular tragedy of the explosion of The Challenger in January of 1986. February 2003 brought the space program into focus again with the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Our children in fifth grade were young in 2003, certainly before the age of an ability to follow what was going on with the space program. For our children, there is no seminal mission regarding the space program. Indeed, it even looks like there will be no mission at all. The journey to revisit the Moon has been cancelled, the journey to Mars is still out of reach. For our children, the space program appears old, tired, and approaching extinction. It is important to remember that even if we are not “exploring strange new worlds” the space program still produces scientific break throughs that are important in our every day lives. And because of that, if no other reason, it is important to make NASA and space important and real to our children. Generating interest in science with our fifth graders now means we may be planting the seed that will lead to a harvest of research and innovation as our children become adults.

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