Saturday, January 13, 2007

Do young people care about space travel?

Discovery lights up the night sky
The Space Review features a story on young people and their interest (or lack thereof) in space travel.

I contemplated the same issue in blog entry a year ago . Do kids today see space travel playing any role in their lives? Space is part of the subculture of American youth, from Star Wars movies to video games like Halo.

Do kids see space as a real place for human exploration, or is it just a fantasy-land where lasers guns and space fighters get to blow up slimy aliens and hordes of armor-plated bad guys? When NASA talks about going to the moon or Mars, images from pop-culture come close to eclipsing the real thing.

Children and teenagers today were not alive for the first days of Apollo program, or the first flights of the shuttle. For young people in our hyper-competitive culture, space travel might be the new frontier, but more earthy pressures are always in their face.

Little kids learn about science and rocketry in grade school, but by the time they get to their teenage years, it is time to focus on something that will get them into college, then a job to pay off those student loans. A select few might realize a dream of working for NASA or for a private space travel company, the rest are off to grad school or the office cubicle.

This could change if private space travel takes off, along with NASA's plans to return to the moon. When you go to a museum and look at murals of astronauts walking on lunar soil, the idea of space flight seem noble, yet so far away. When you see a rocket launch with your own eyes, everything changes.

Only a few weeks ago, the shuttle took off and flew by my city, zooming past the East Coast after launching from Florida. People of all ages went into their backyards on a cold December night, looking for a fleeting speck moving across the night sky.

Why would they go out on a freezing night to look up to see something so small and, honestly, unspectacular? The shuttle would only be a blip in the sky, not quite like seeing it roar up into the blackness at Cape Canaveral. Why did they bother to look up?

The reason might be they knew that moving star was a group of humans, moving faster than the speed of sound on their way to space. The sight was not nearly as spectacular as seeing the real launch at the Cape, but a bit of the awe of space travel had come to visit them where they lived.

In a time when we have become bored with technology, the idea of humans going into space still make people yearn to be part of the adventure themselves. Space travel can reach into the imaginations of jaded adults, returning the wonder of youth for a few precious moments.

Will someone find a way to harness that imagination? If they do, there will be many who will be ready to brave the cold and watch them go forth, even if it is just bright pinpoint moving against the starry night.


Unknown said...

From the opinion of an aspiring Aerospace Engineer, I can only corroborate everything you've said.. Sometimes it feels like all my original enthusiasm has been replaced with frustration. Here's hoping I make it out of school with my inspiration intact.

Charles G said...

Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad someone liked my post. I wish you the best in your work. If you ever feel frustrated, just remember me and many others are cheering you on.