Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Science Exploration: Why Bother?

"Voyager 1 Bids Farewell to Solar System." This news broke as the 2012 summer began. Not on the front page of the newspaper, of course. I read it in one of my science journals. I was vacationing up in northern Minnesota when I heard, and I was instantly pulled back into the adventures of space exploration. I followed so much of this as a child, living during the two decades following Sputnik, during the race to the moon. I was mesmerized once again as I looked up at the stars in the clear northern sky. A spectacular view, uninterrupted by Chicago light pollution. I then listened to Science Friday's Ira Flatow share details about Voyager 1's travels. (Listen here.)

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched 35 years ago, in 1977. I was in fifth grade! Each have computers with only 68 kilobytes of memory and use 8 track tape recorders! I am in awe of the project scientist Edward C. Stone who has been involved with the adventures of Voyager since the very beginning. His dedication, patience and passion are extraordinary. Can you imagine being a part of a "science project" for half your life?!

Voyager 1 is about to "go where no one has gone before," no person or man-made object. It is on the edge of the sun's magnetic bubble, about the break through to interstellar space. It travels close to a MILLION miles a day, and has been for 35 years. The vastness of space is incomprehensible.  And simply fascinating.

Over the summer, we lost two legends associated with the space program, Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong. After hearing the news of Armstrong's death, I reflected on the sad reality that a time is fast approaching where all members of the elite club, people who have actually been to the moon, will no longer be with us. And unfortunately viewing astronauts as scientific heroes and reading about space exploration as front page news is all but a distant memory.

Why explore? Why research? Why bother nurturing curiosity, discovery, innovation, invention? Why invest—money or time—in science at all? Don't we know enough? I've heard my students ask these types of questions over the years. And there are so many responses that jump to mind. Here are three that parallel the classroom articles I've handed out and the discussions I've had with my students this year so far.
  1. Historically, the journey of science itself, without first having a prescribed incentive or even a specific question in mind, has improved and expanded our knowledge base.. "Time after time, Voyager revealed unexpected—kind of counterintuitive—results, which means we have a lot to learn." ~Edward C. Stone. Exploration for the sake of exploration allows questions to surface that we didn't even know needed to be asked. It is the nature of science. And it's in our genes. As humans, we are naturally curious. If we don't explore the world around us, we are denying our humanity. (And I'm focused on all science, not just space exploration.)
  2. Scientific investigation allows for the unification of the global community around great achievement. Imagine if we decided to tackle a single problem together, like discovering the cure for cancer, or determining how to provide clean water to the world, or figuring out more efficient and effective methods for energy. Perhaps if we start to nurture creativity and imagination in school, rather than simply focusing on facts and figures, we can adopt the mentality of dreaming big again.
  3. Why should we explore? Well, why not?! That's a better question.
"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." ~Neil Armstrong

1 comment:

Carli's Blogfolio said...

I really like this article and your commentary on it. It's nice to know that we as a community can be binded together by science. Also, I never knew that anything go go close to the sun. I always thought it was too hot. I am really intrigued that the Voyager 1 can get really close to the sun.