A group of enterprising young students has made a discovery on Mars this week with the help of the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. This partnership, designed to give students an opportunity to conduct scientific research with high tech tools and the professionals who provide those tools, has uncovered an uncharted cave. The cave is actually a collapsed lava tube near Pavonis Mons, one of Mars’ large extinct volcanoes. According to Space.com, excited middle school kids were able to scrutinize high quality photographs provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in their search for new geologic features on the Red Planet.
This youthful spirit of fresh optimism is accompanied by a dose of touchy political reality, provided by John Glenn, who also this week expressed his opinion about the haggard and seemingly rudderless U.S. Space Program. He adamantly stated he believes the Space Shuttles should continue to fly until a reliable and American-controlled replacement is available instead of depending entirely on Russian spacecraft, an opinion I happen to share for many reasons.
Beyond the complicated political issues, it does seem a crime to retire the Space Shuttles to unknown dormant futures in the wake of an inspiring flurry of work, going back to the last 2009 Hubble Telescope repair mission, and an incredibly busy 2010. The iconic spacecraft continue to inspire people with their versatility, even as it is an accepted fact that their continued use could mean greater and greater risk of permanently losing Atlantis, Discovery, or Endeavor.
John Glenn is just the most recent in a long line of disgruntled space technology professionals and political minds who are taking aim at President Obama’s decisions regarding the future direction of American space exploration. There appears to be a good deal of rancor, infighting, and lack of direction in the US Space Program right now.
Don’t tell the impassioned youth and dedicated public of Denver, Colorado, that they should listen to too much of this pessimism, however. Space Sciences are booming here. To illustrate the fact, the University of Colorado Denver is gearing up for its third STEMapalooza, a weekend-long exploratory celebration of innovation, creation, and cooperation in the areas of Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM). Save the date of October 8th and 9th, 2010 because the event is free and open to the public at the Denver Convention Center.
In 2009, STEMapalooza welcomed over 10,000 visitors who tried their hands in robotics, rocketry, film production, and many other activities related to engineering and math careers. The third year promises to be an equally active event. STEMapalooza encourages critical thinking about science and technology and facilitates the public’s true exploration of STEM careers. This spirit of education may be a key to salvaging our country’s greatness in this new century.
So, as the second decade of the 21st century unfolds, as climate change and energy challenges push us to our limits of understanding and patience, as crippling budgetary constraints and muddy political discourse determine more than ever the quality and quantity of human exploration in our world and beyond, there is an undeniable tension between optimism and skepticism. We should all remember the unrelenting tenacity and refreshing humility of Sir Isaac Newton when he said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Let’s hope that America remembers how to see further, delve deeper, and search harder for those objective truths that serve to guide us toward our better angels in challenging times.
Space.com; Clara Moskowitz;”7-th Graders discover mysterious cave on mars”
Associated Press; “John Glenn: Keep space shuttles flying”;
Photo of Pavonis Mons; Space.com
STEMapalooza Denver, Colorado – October 8-9, 2010
Jennifer Tarbox; Associated Content; “The Price of a Dream; Space Shuttle for Sale” and “Hubble Hoo-Ray!”
thinkexist.com; Isaac Newton Quotes