Look up. Way up.

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

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rick Ma­cLean Rick Ma­cLean is an in­struc­tor in the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hol­land Col­lege in Char­lot­te­town.

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.


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.

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