A recent trip to Kennedy Space Center made me feel like a kid again and I’m reveling in a momentary lapse of cynicism. Please excuse me if I sound cheesy, or over the top, but I haven’t come back down to earth quite yet.
The United States is is a young nation. We have not been afraid to explore, and our boldness led us to take humankind’s first steps on the moon.
Naturally, our curiosity has led us to some dead ends and we’ve taken a few tumbles, but through basic scientific exploration and hard work we have stumbled upon a wealth of information that has made each of our lives better.
Even while being robbed of our innocence, our country has managed to hold strong to the ideals of freedom and equality. Sadly, our childlike wonder has not been so lucky and is in danger of becoming a casualty of the aging process. Gravity pulls us down each time we cut funding to scientific research. It doesn’t hurt much yet, but could bring us to our knees.
At Kennedy Space Center the last week of April, I attended a “tweetup” sponsored by NASA for 150 of it’s Twitter followers. There to witness the launch of space shuttle Endeavour, we were given behind-the-scenes tours at NASA and listened to a number of astronauts, scientists, engineers, and technicians speak about working for the space program. Their passion and conviction for what they do was the most patriotic expression I’ve ever witnessed. The message I heard over and over again was the mantra of the American dream.
“Work hard in school and you can be whatever you want to be.” (Maybe even an astronaut.)
“The best stuff is still in front of us.”
“When we stop exploring we will falter.”
NASA is not about astronauts sitting around eating freeze-dried ice cream. It is about exploration and science. It is about “revealing the unknown about the planet on which we live” and learning about our place in the universe. The astronauts on the space station are conducting experiments which will yield better vaccines and cancer treatments, among other things. They’re gleaning priceless information about our home planet that we simply can’t capture with our feet on the ground.
Of course it is important for us to be fiscally responsible as a nation, but we can’t lose our childlike wonder or we will lose what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We will fail to thrive when we fail to explore and make new discoveries. NASA embodies the American spirit of exploration and symbolizes what makes us so great as a nation.
As NASA’s chief scientist Waleed Abdalati said, there is a “brilliant future ahead that is ours for the creating.”