If you've been paying any attention here, you know what a huge supporter of space exploration I am. Manned missions to Mars, moon bases, shuttle flights, space tourism: I love it all. It's probably part of my love of travel; what could possibly be more different from home than another planet? Than outer space? My fascination also stems from an early love of science fiction and early indoctrination with Star Trek (I was 6 when the show first aired). But its simultaneity with the first moon landing (the original series ran from 1966-1969, in case you actually don't know this) was probably the clincher. Not only could we dream about going to other planets, but hey! We could do it! Nothing could be more inspirational to a kid than watching a dream come true, or in this case, watching people actually setting foot on an alien world, when all you've done is read about it or seen fictional stories about it. It gives one a "damn we're good!" feeling not to be rivaled or duplicated in any other way.
This is one of the reasons I feel shuttle flights are so important: not just for the scientific knowledge that we gain with each one of them, but for their immeasurable inspirational quality. Having lived most of my life with the fact of my fellow humans flinging ourselves recklessly into space from right here at home, I can't imagine that not happening, or imagine having to look to, say, China, for the next exploratory manned rocket launch. I do think space exploration should be an international effort. Nothing makes us realize that we're all part of one world than seeing the big blue marble from lunar orbit. Yeah, CGI is a marvelous thing, but it ain't real. But with shuttles due to be retired and NASA opting for unmanned Mars landings, how do you inspire young people at home to get the kind of rocket fever so many of my contemporaries had?
Cue Snoop Dogg and Buzz Aldrin:
P.S. I'm still processing my China trip and working my way through the essays my students wrote on Science in China, but there will be future posts on those topics. I just figured it was about time I got back to work here.