Science is cool again

Rick MacLean
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On September 12th, 1962 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy gave one of his most famous space speeches, challenging NASA to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Apparently there are still science fans out there. And it’s cool again.

If you’re an early riser and feel like taking a quick look outside for the next month or so, look south.

Not the longing look of someone dreaming of sandy beaches, suntan lotion and red skin. Instead, stare into the sky so you see five of the planets bobbing around just ahead of the rising sun.

Mercury will be closest to the horizon, followed closely by Venus, then Saturn, Mars and farthest overhead the biggest of them all, Jupiter.

That’s not bad, considering there are only eight planets in all and you’re standing on one of them. Plus, you can’t see Uranus and Neptune with the naked eye because, even though they’re huge, they’re so far away.

It’s one of those science geek moments.

But why?

When did it become OK to roll your eyes when someone mentions science or far, far, far worse math? Why do people feel it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I can’t do math’ with a laugh, yet they would never joke about not being able to read.

Somewhere along the way, science stopped being cool. It didn’t use to be this way.

Consider Oct. 4, 1957. That day, the Soviet Union won the space race. It was the first nation to launch a satellite into space. It wasn’t much, a metal ball 58 centimetres across, sort of a basketball with a radio inside roaring around the Earth at 29,000 kilometres an hour, completing a trip around the planet every 96 minutes.

People were enthralled. We were spacemen - and women. The Soviets would one day follow that space first with others, the first man in space, and the first woman.

Others were shocked, certain war was next. The reaction was funding for scientific research on a scale not seen since the Second World War. There’s nothing quite like killing on an industrial scale to pry dollars out of a government’s hands.

Suddenly it was cool to be a scientist. And patriotic.

Universities started pumping out budding young scientists. Then, the American president, John F. Kennedy, jumped on the bus. Standing at podium in Houston, Texas on Sept. 12, 1962 he issued his famous challenge.

Get us to the Moon, he urged the scientists of the day. And do it by the end of this decade. Why, he asked, knowing others would ask it of him.

“Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?” The answer, he said, was simple.

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Today, some children still dream of being astronauts. They look up at the sky, see the planets and dream of going there.

Not convinced? Total sales for the movie The Martian hit $597,854,027 worldwide this past week. It’s the tale of a astronaut left for dead on Mars. Alone on the Red Planet, he decides he’s not going to die.

His solution?

“I’m going to have to science the (hell) out of this.”

The rest of the movie is the story of how he does exactly that. Apparently there are still science fans out there. And some would love to go to Mars. Beam me up, Scotty.

- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Holland College

Geographic location: Soviet Union, Mars, Houston, Texas Charlottetown

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