For some, there is an air of nostalgia around Discovery’s return from the International Space Station as NASA’s oldest shuttle is being retired. Discovery made its final launch during Engineers Week, marking the first of the final three missions of the shuttle program. I had the privilege to attend what I thought was the last flight for the shuttle Atlantis, and was thrilled to hear that NASA has extended their program through June, when the final countdown for Atlantis, and all space shuttles, will commence. The conclusion of such a crucial part of U.S. history is complicated; our government’s decision to turn our priorities away from strong public tax dollar supported space exploration begs the question what are other countries doing? The proposed situation is that we will be “renting space” from Russia. At the same time, China will be building a dynamic space program, and there is speculation that other countries will surpass our investment, technological capabilities, and our ability to lead the world toward important discoveries in space.
Another key question is that, even if more U.S. tax dollars are dedicated to further exploit the future of space travel with private sector leadership, will our nation have the skilled engineers, scientists or technology experts to explore the far reaches of our solar system and galaxy?
As part of EIC’s Ready on the S.E.T initiative, we promote Action!…towards encouraging our youth to pursue education and careers in these fields. We are working to consistently engage the entertainment industry in this strategy. Why? Because like it or not, the entertainment industry can help young people pay attention, just as it has done with movies like The Right Stuff, and Apollo 13.
The excitement that captured the imaginations of Americans during the Space Race is no longer apparent in the young people of today: a poll conducted by the American Society for Quality in 2009 found that 85% of surveyed youth have no interest in a future career in engineering. Why? Most said they didn’t know much about engineering and they wanted to do something more “exciting”. Those same young people might change their minds if they better understand the advances and contributions made to society by engineers. Yes, they design video games, build toys, and create robotic cars, technology that kids love today. However, educators, parents and thought leaders must be diligent and dedicated to help shape our youth’s mindset by developing a new passion, a lasting fad if your will, that incubates a new generation who will rejuvenate or newly launch American space exploration, value new discoveries, and lead our country into the future without reservation. It is now, more than ever, that we need this next generation(s) of American heroes to promote the greatness of the U.S. and the many opportunities afforded to our nation economically, politically, and spiritually. Hopefully this next generation will soon be on the horizon, ready to blast off and once again aspire to serve their country. It takes all of us to do our part, and answer the question…what can I do to make a difference? Thank you to all who made Discovery possible.