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A Moon Shot for the New Generation?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Full confession: I wasn't alive for the moon landing, and -- for the most part -- none of the parents in my peer group were old enough to really remember those edge-of-the-seat days in July 1969. But that hasn't kept my friends from celebrating the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing with the kind of nostalgia usually reserved for high school reunions and Led Zepplin concerts.

Still, I did grow up at a time when the exploration of space captured the imagination. I'm not sure I could count the number of shuttle launches I watched, starting with the very first one. (For reasons I can't explain, I still have memorized the names of the first two shuttle astronauts memorized -- Crippen and Young.) And like pretty much everyone born after 1968, the Challenger disaster will always be the defining tragedy of my youth. Space -- and science -- was a fundamental part of thinking of myself as a science-oriented child.

My challenge is trying to bottle that enthusiasm for science for my kids in an era where the grand adventures seem to be in the past. The value of human spaceflight has always been debatable from a strictly research standpoint, but it has long been an inspiration for millions of children who want to know more about rockets or stars or computers. But that kind of high-profile science seems to have disappeared. Is there science anymore that kids can instantly relate to?

I suppose that, in some way, the climate change crisis is giving kids a better sense of that side of science; my oldest probably knows more about recycling and energy conservation than I do. But I can't imagine that it has the same imagination fueling pull of space travel.

In a world where the moon was long ago conquered, what gets your kids worked up about science?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  July 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Education
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Comments


I find this an odd topic.

Ummm, mentos in a 2 liter bottle of soda?

BTW, I don't remember the moon landing and have not been much of a follower of the space program.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 23, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

"In a world where the moon was long ago conquered, what gets your kids worked up about science?"

Time travel.

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 23, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

I was alive for the moon landing (but still a toddler). It didn't particularly inspire me in any way toward science. Perhaps this is because I grew up in a different country. It got reported and we knew all about the Challenger disaster but it wasn't our program.

My step-son is very much into dinosaurs and fossils.

Posted by: Billie_R | July 23, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

"In a world where the moon was long ago conquered, what gets your kids worked up about science?"

Transmogrification.

Posted by: 06902 | July 23, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I wasn't alive during the landing of the moon and I do remember the challenger. Although it did not inspire me towards space exploration.

My five year old daughter has always been interested in fish.

My 13 month old son is interested in anything he can put in his mouth. His own scientfic studies. :)

Posted by: foamgnome | July 23, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

as a high school science teacher i find fewer and fewer students every year interested in the subject... it's a money driven society and there is no patience for science and the scientific method of research, and it's still a "geeky" perception from the kids to have any interest in science at all... almost every science fair project from our honors students is something a 2nd grader could do - it's truly sad....

Posted by: annwhite1 | July 23, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

At school, there are several points along the way where the students are tasked to write a paper about, "What do you wanna be when you grow up", or "What will the future technologies bring to mankind" and that sort of stuff.

This has given my kids several opportunities to write about how they want to be scientists and discover a way to either transplant eyes or develop an electronic camera that can be connected to the optic nerve so the blind can see. Of course, they just happen to slip in that the motivation behind this is that their father is blind and they want to fulfill his #1 lifelong dream of someday being able to see his kids and finally knowing what they look like, which in fact, is very, very true.

Papers like these have a way of jerking a tear from the teacher and garenteeing an A.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | July 23, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

My earliest memory of the space program was the Challenger explosion on live TV at school. Maybe that baises my view on NASA as whole, but as a 30-year-old with a young son, I look at the space program and balance that against my 1040. Instead of sending a man to Mars, how about we scrap NASA entirely and I get to keep some more of my paycheck.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | July 23, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

"I look at the space program and balance that against my 1040."

NASA's allocation of Fed Budget ~0.58%.
Say you make $100K / year...married filing jointly gets you to $17,375 in fed taxes...so, you end up paying about $100/year for the space program (0.10%) of your income.

Up to you if you think you're getting more or less than $100/year value from NASA...

Posted by: 06902 | July 23, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

"the climate change crisis is giving kids a better sense of that side of science;"

It's not science, it's politics.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | July 23, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

DD: the world around her -- bugs, plants, animals, weather, etc. DS: computers.

Brian, I also suggest you expand your view of "high-profile" science. What do you think the whole internet boom was all about? Everybody wanted to be a techie, create the next killer app (and, of course, start your own company and become an overnight gazillionaire). The boom may be over, but how many people are spending their spare time creating apps for the Apple Store?

I do think the next wave will be a reversion to more of the natural sciences. Just look at all the publicity -- not just global warming, but how different actions and chemicals affect us and the planet. Agree or disagree, the almost overwhelming media attention indicates a real interest in these areas.

And, of course, the health sciences. With the Baby Boomers now hitting their 60s, there seems to be a renewed interest in life-extension and -improvement medical treatments. Gee, go figure. :-)

Brian, I think our generation (and earlier ones) saw science in a very stereotypical "guy" way -- it's all about (a) inventing gadgets that (b) allow you to go conquer new territories -- the whole "to boldly go where no man has gone before" thing. The modern-day version of Columbus and Vasco de Gama. But what do you do when you've done that? I mean, with the exception of a few deep sea trenches, and until the discovery of warp drive, we've pretty much gone everywhere we can reasonably go in a lifetime (well, except for Mars -- but I've seen the pictures, and it's not exactly calling to me, ya know?).

The version of science that I see growing now is what I'd call a more stereotypically "female" version -- it's all about understanding the connections between what is all around us every day. For my daughter, things like recycling, gardening, turning off lights are big deals, because she makes that connection to the ground she walks on and the air she breathes. She currently wants to be a doctor -- again, I think because she sees that as a way to understand and learn new things to help people, to make that connection between us and our world. To her, being stuck by herself in a rocket for months would be a version of hell (let's just say space would no longer be silent).

Posted by: laura33 | July 23, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

"Up to you if you think you're getting more or less than $100/year value from NASA."

Every dollar counts -- I'll keep my $100 and be more inspired by a night out with the family than anything NASA could ever do.

But your math has encouraged me to look as other aspects of the Federal budget (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_United_States_federal_budget). That .58% looks like the low hanging fruit and good place to start.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | July 23, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"Up to you if you think you're getting more or less than $100/year value from NASA."

Every dollar counts -- I'll keep my $100 and be more inspired by a night out with the family than anything NASA could ever do.

But your math has encouraged me to look as other aspects of the Federal budget (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_United_States_federal_budget). That .58% looks like the low hanging fruit and good place to start.


Posted by: NoVAHockey | July 23, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse


I'd spring for the $100 for a couple of NASA adult-sized diapers for my gaga granny.

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 23, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I do think the interest in Space exploration is generational, but I don't think interest in "science" in general has changed. So what if people think it is geeky to be interested in science? It's been that way for decades, welcome to the real world!

Space exploration was already a done deal when I was a kid, I didn't live through the space race with the Russians so while I have appreciation for those times - it was not my generation's (Xers) cause. Think of the incredible technology boom we have gone through in the past 20 years - it was my generation's cause. It's all generational and relative.

Lastly, I agree with altmom, to call "the climate change crisis" the new "science" for kids today is laughable. If science were the basis we wouldn't have it being sold to and shoved down our throats, because the science behind climate change is far from being a consensus. My kids still enjoy the dirt, magnet and other science projects they do in school - and actually being outside and learning about nature.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 23, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow - so many cynical comments today from the Gen Xers. Makes me glad I was born earlier......

When I was in elementary school, the teachers brought their portable TVs to school so that the class could watch every Apollo mission launch together. The whole "final frontier" theme was exciting for everyone - especially for kids. We all pictured that we'd be living like the Jetsons when we were older (or at least floating around in giant space stations).

If you are interested in finding out about the contributions that NASA has made to research and applied science - to to their Spinoff homepage: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/. It's pretty fascinating.

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | July 23, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

jezebel - when your kids finish that time machine, I would like a ride back to 1997, please. Man, I had some kind of fantastic year in 1997!

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 23, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

jezebel - when your kids finish that time machine, I would like a ride back to 1997, please. Man, I had some kind of fantastic year in 1997!

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 23, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse


LOL! I will. They are also interested in cloning - they read about cat cloning. Yikes!

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 23, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you could get them interested in cloning something else. We have enough cats. In fact, my Mother has several free-to-a-good-home-kittens if anyone is interested...

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 23, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I do know a couple of good dogs I wouldn't mind cloning. And a couple of hot men.

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 23, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

My father worked on the space program, so I was always really connected to that growing up. The Challenger disaster was a defining moment for me. I have no idea if interest in science has changed over the years, certainly it holds answers for those with curiosity about the world around them. I remember earth science and biology being some of the earliest classes in elementary school. It makes sense - they explain the immediate world around us. Where do clouds come from? What is the purpose of flowers? Chemistry and Physics require higher levels of math to explain properly, which is why math and science go hand-in-hand.

Back to the original question, news and current events hold little interest for adults, much less children in this day and age. What gets them excited is the ability to answer questions and predict outcomes based on a theory.

Posted by: newmom2009 | July 23, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Groovis, I think that's the point. Since you lived through the space race you have more appreciation. Nothing wrong with saying, I didn't live it so I was not a space junkie...

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 23, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

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