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NASA Shuttle Launch and the Importance of Science in Schools

The crew of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour on their way to the launch pad this morning.

The crew of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour on their way to the launch pad this morning.

“The sun is just a big blob of stuff in the sky.  And it’s our closest star.  That’s in my Starry Sky book.  Bye!”  That’s how my daughter ended a phone conversation with her father yesterday, and hearing her say that left me awestruck.  When I was in kindergarten I didn’t know anything about the way the world works!  Sure, I could read, but I didn’t know the sun was a big ball of gas in the sky and that it was Earth’s closest star.  I viewed the sun much in the same way the cavemen probably did, with a fearful respect.  I knew the sun was hot, and that if you harnessed its rays using a magnifying glass you could fry a worm to death.  The neighbor boys taught me that in their sidewalk science lab, where all the nearby kids would gather to examine bugs.  This was back in the 80’s, when kids still played outdoors unsupervised, climbing trees, digging dirt and holding contests to see who could stare into that big, bright blob of stuff in the sky the longest without going blind.

Today my daughter attends an elementary school that places a premium on scientific study, and at this point she probably knows more about the biology of the animal kingdom than I do.  But I’m not sure how much she’s grasped about other planets and our place in the solar system, which is why I’m excited to sit with her and talk about today’s final launch of NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour.

According to Space.com, the Endeavour’s main mission is to collect data using an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a “$2 billion particle detector that will search for cosmic rays that might help unravel some of our most perplexing cosmic mysteries, such as what makes up the invisible dark matter thought to pervade the universe.”  The Endeavour crew, led by Mark Kelly, will also deliver 14,000 pounds of backup supplies for the International Space Station, which is scheduled to operate until at least 2020.  Endeavour’s flight marks the beginning of the end for NASA’s shuttle program.  The government organization has only one more launch planned, the STS-135 voyage of Atlantis slated for July.  After that, “NASA will pay for U.S. astronauts’ passage to the space station aboard Russian spacecraft until an American alternative is available,” Space.com reports.  Additionally, they say, “NASA will work on building a heavy-lift rocket that could carry humans back to the moon, an asteroid, and eventually on to Mars.”  Plans continue for commercial space flight as well, which means our children’s children may skip the field trip to the planetarium and head right for the stars themselves.

Though NASA’s shuttle program is coming to an end, my daughter’s foray into scientific exploration has just begun.  I couldn’t be happier to know that even in kindergarten she’s already begun to develop an understanding of nature and the world from a scientific perspective, and I’m hoping to be able to re-learn the things I’ve forgotten (or never really got in the first place) along with her.  I just hope she never tries to fry a worm on the sidewalk.

Source and photo: Space.com

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