So I was driving with my 9-year-old grandson, Kawika, the other day and I told him it was hard to see because the glare from that star was so bright.
He said, “What star?” I pointed to the sun and he replied, “That’s not a star. That’s the sun.”
“Our sun is a star. Just like the ones you see twinkling at night. Even though our sun is more than 100 times larger than Earth, some stars are much bigger than ours. Our sun looks small because it’s 93 million miles away.”
Kawika gave me the skeptical look that I know so well. It’s my own fault. I’ve had the funny but bad habit of telling the kids outlandish stories because, as a kid, they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. My brother Tony did the same thing when his daughter Kaci was younger. We’re brats.
I’ve wanted to cultivate an interest in science with Kawika for a while now. I just finished reading Buzz Aldrin’s book, “Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon,” and I’m currently reading astronaut Jim Lovell’s “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13.” I can’t wait to share the stories with him. Since Kawika already loves robots, superheroes and science fiction, it should be easy to get him hooked on science.
Part of my motivation is that U.S. high school students have stagnated in science the past dozen or so years, with 22 countries posting higher scores. It doesn’t help when we have leaders actively politicizing and bashing science education.
But in one bright spot, surprisingly, the House of Representatives just passed a bipartisan bill (401-2) authorizing $17.6 billion in fiscal 2014 for U.S. space programs. The next generation of heavy-lift rocket launchers and the Orion spacecraft are being built and tested with an eye on returning to the moon, tethering asteroids and a manned mission to Mars.
Critics of space exploration say the money can be better spent here in this country. Such shortsightedness doesn’t understand the benefits we derive from studying this final frontier. Space exploration has given us life-support systems, laser heart surgery, artificial limbs, satellite television, infrared ear thermometers, improved highway safety and radial tires, memory foam, improved air quality, better braking technology, the portable handheld vacuum cleaner, firefighter breathing apparatus, freeze-dried food and so on.
A space exploration boom can become an economic boom throughout the country.
If Kawika spends the night this weekend, perhaps we’ll design a robot. Maybe we’ll go outside at 9:55 p.m. and look to the north, where the International Space Station will be visible over Fairfield for three minutes. Or perhaps we’ll buy a microscope. With hard work and a little luck, he and I will eventually boldly go where more American students need to go: Upward in science education. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at [email protected]