Wednesday, September 29, 2004

To Infinity and Beyond!

They made it. Again. The first flight attempt to claim the X-prize was today, a prize to encourage the development of a reusable, privately built spaceship. Yes, spaceship! Now, those who know me know I’ve been a lifelong scifi junkie. I’m too young to remember the Apollo era, or Neil Armstrong. I VIVIDLY remember the Challenger explosion. I was in 6th grade, and all I wanted was to be an astronaut (or a marine biologist….). When the Challenger exploded, did it make me give up my dreams of being an astronaut? Did it scare me away? No. It made me more proud of the astronauts who were willing to risk everything in an attempt to reach space. Something so immensely important to 12 year old me that I considered it worth dying for. It did scare a LOT of people, and unfortunately pushed the space program so far back that up until a couple of years ago I seriously doubted that anyone would set foot on the moon in my lifetime. In my lifetime. And that was a sad thought. But now, we’ve got a corporation already formed to offer the first ‘tourist’ trips to space. Sign me up! I WANT TO GO TO SPACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I sat at my desk for the whole morning watching the footage streamed live. Truthfully, they should probably dock me a half day’s pay since I really didn’t get ANY work done. I was just glued to my screen. I cheered when they announced the flight was successful. Cheered. Out loud. And didn’t care that the new guy must now firmly believe I am certifiable. He had to find out sometime. Turns out he’s a space buff too. :) When SpaceShipOne started to roll, all I could think of was “Oh no, no, let him be alright. If this fails, it will be the end of private spaceflight. We’ll never get to space.” Was I concerned for Mr. Melvill? Absolutely. But he knew the risks and felt this was hands down worth them. I was more concerned for humanity as a whole. And particularly for ‘Western civilization’.

We’ve lost the burning desire to invent, to investigate. I work in a scientific field. Every week at work I hear someone commenting on all ‘us foreigners’ coming and taking all the good science jobs. In my first group at my current company, the only ‘native’ American in a group of 8 was our boss. Who freely admits he was only a mediocre chemist. (But he was a great boss.) There’s a good reason for the lack of trained scientists here. In school, science is treated as third rate. You’d never get the same response to a math bowl as you did for the football game. It isn’t encouraged. Granted it’s not as much fun to watch either, but it IS deserving of support. At the very least from the school administration. If you want money to buy better equipment for a science lab, there are fifty gazillion hoops to go through and ‘justifications’ required. Football team needs a new $20,000 training push dummy thing-a-ma-bob? ‘Here you go’. The reaction I got at my highschool graduation really stuck with me. When the teacher, who’d known me for several years at this point, went to announce that I was going into mining engineering at university he choked. Looked at me in shock. And took two tries before he could actually announce it. North America, and the US in particular, seems to have lost sight of what inspires people to go into research and the sciences in general. I don't know how it can be taught, other than by example, but someone smarter than me needs to find a way. I can’t clearly articulate how it makes me feel when I *GET* something at work that’s been driving me nuts for weeks. A good friend and non-scientist says she thinks it’s like doing a puzzle without a box for me. I love to get in there and figure it out. Work at it. I enjoy being a little confused, being challenged, and then having that ‘eureka’ moment when it all comes together and makes sense. We need to share the joy of discovery with every child we encounter. And maybe, just maybe, we'll end up with a smarter generation coming after us.

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