NASA’s new launch is an inspiration to engineering education
On Wednesday, October 28, America once again showcased its dominance in space technology to the world, as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration successfully launched its Ares 1-X Rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. Such an achievement augurs well: The new moon program is a shining rebuttal to detractors of America’s math and science programs as well as a promise for progress in American space exploration in the future.
To begin with, the rocket’s technical specifications are astounding. Thirty-two stories high, the Ares 1-X towers as the tallest rocket in the world. And the sight of the launch was no less spectacular than the rocket itself. The first stage of the engine brought the rocket 25 miles into the air until its fuel ran out and parachuted it into the ocean.
But the true triumph of the Ares rocket doesn’t lie in its physical properties alone. It’s the less tangible inspiration the rocket will provide to future generations of American mathematicians, scientists, and engineers that makes it so important. Education reformers working with students from kindergarten through 12th grade will now be able to look to the rocket as a symbol of hope and inspiration. The Ares will encourage them to imagine even more fantastic goals and products that will be achieved after America repairs its education problem.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann ’71 explained that “the Sputnik era didn’t come because a lot of idealists said we had to be better. It came because there were idealists as there are today who said we’re in trouble as a country, we have to compete against the Russians. We have to compete today against the Chinese and Indians who are graduating tens of thousands more very talented science, math, and engineering graduates from their colleges.” The success of the new moon program can now be used by policymakers in arguing for both increasing the number of graduates in the math and sciences as well as improving the quality of those programs.
Gutmann’s words recall the more famous speech by President John F. Kennedy ’40, who argued before Congress at the start of his own moon program that “This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.” As we are currently slated to begin a moon colony in 2020, NASA is making laudable progress in creating the infrastructure needed for it. After the moon colony is established, it will only be a matter of time until a Mars colony becomes feasible.
And our nation’s engineers will get us there. The time, energy, resources, and knowledge expended on the moon program will inevitably have significant payoffs in the math and science sectors of America. The Ares rocket represents a remarkable American engineering marvel, the first of what look like many to come in the 21st century.
Anthony J. Bonilla ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.