Desperately Seeking the "Culture of Exploration"
Any interest in the noble profession of space exploration evaporated for me on January 28, 1986, when me and several of my classmates witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. I was in elementary school in Boynton Beach, FL, standing out on the playground and staring at a blip in the sky way off in the distance. The teachers seemed to know something had gone wrong as we were briskly escorted back into class. The televisions were on in the classrooms, and from that point forward, I knew leaving this planet wasn't something for which I was willing to risk my life.
So, it is with a stifled yawn and a touch of incredulousness that I read of NASA's plans to land on the moon, again, as an intermediary step to sending humans to Mars. President Bush announced his grand plan for this during the State of the Union address in 2004, and I remember thinking of it as just a stream of rhetoric meant to take our attention away from the very expensive war in the Middle East. Now it appears he was serious, or at least, not lying. With Dubya, it's hard to tell what we should believe.
What struck me about this Washington Post article was the assertion by NASA that one major hurdle to the project is the need for U.S. citizens to "reacquire what planetary scientist Christopher P. McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center calls 'our culture of exploration.'"
In addition to figuring out how to invent the machinery that will get us there and how to sustain life once we arrive, NASA's public relations department must be working overtime on coloring books for 4th graders. They could start by sponsoring the upcoming MTV Music Awards, live from Cape Canaveral with MoonMan statues made of real lunar rocks and interstellar bling. If the project is going to take until 2020 to complete - and that's admittedly a rosy and unlikely timeline - it will be important to get to the kids who will one day be taxpayers.
My generation and younger, thanks to the Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia explosions, aren't buying what NASA's selling.
Artwork by Jimmy Lawlor - The Molesworth Gallery