To Inspire a Generation
    Category: Column By : James Kallman Read : 882 Date : Wednesday, December 03, 2014 - 22:15:14

    Forty-five years have passed since my parents forced me to stay up to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to set foot on the Moon. While I probably didn’t appreciate it at the time, that “one small step for man” was to have a profound influence on my life, for it inspired in me a belief that there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish if I really put my mind to it.

    The torch had indeed been passed to a new generation and that generation had responded by emulating the great explorers of the past in meeting the challenge and putting a man on the Moon. I was not the only one to be swept up in a tidal wave of national pride, for a whole new generation was inspired to believe in their capabilities to achieve.

    Somewhere along the way, however, this belief was largely to wither on the vine, lacking continuing fertilization by leaders of vision as attention became increasingly diverted elsewhere. While NASA’s missions continued and contributed much in scientific terms, there have only been a few such as the Mars lander that have sparked major interest in the same way. As with many things, it has been the private sector that has provided the leadership in promoting technical advances and many of the things we today consider as normal hardware owe their origins to the space program. 

    The U.S.-Soviet space rivalry that so typified the Cold War’s struggle for the hearts and minds of the developing world is long over, replaced by cooperation on projects such as the international space station. Now I am sure that the work they and others have, and continue to carry out on the space station has been important, but with our leaders failing to champion these efforts we have all become a little blasé. Meanwhile, China and India’s forays into space may have engendered displays of national pride, but have not fired the imagination of the world at large.   

    Yet that tingle of excitement returned with the successful landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission has rekindled not only mine, but international attention on what we as a species do best—go boldly forth on projects that push back boundaries and expand human knowledge.

    It is not just in space that we need to push back boundaries, however, for in fact we know more about space than we do about our own planet’s ocean depths. Then, of course, there are all the secrets (good and bad) that still lurk in our rapidly diminishing tropical forests, or even within our own bodies.

    There was no great fanfare when the Human Genome Project was completed in April 2003, although this inward voyage of discovery to enable the sequencing and mapping of all the genes of our species must rank among the great feats of discovery in history. Yet much still remains to be done to understand the reasons and causes of disease, both mental and physical.

    Thus, we cannot afford to waste European Space Agency’s achievement in landing a small robot on a distant comet, for it affords an opportunity to spark the imagination and inspire a whole new generation “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”