Eric and I were invited by the Citizens for Space Exploration to address members of Congress about the benefits of continued funding for NASA and NASA's endeavors (endeavors = projects…not more shuttlesJ). The CSE is a citizens group supporting the U.S.'s continuing support for space exploration. Once a year they invite students and community leaders to have closed room discussions lobbying for a 1% NASA budget. Most of the time we actually met with the technical advisor, not the congressmen. Apparently the technical advisor actually required to have a degree in a non-technical field like basket weaving. That was rude and I'm sorry, but I think most of the people I talked to would agree that it would be beneficial to have a technical person in the technical position. Oh well, they were all pleasant people and seemed quite responsive to the topic. Really I think the number one criterion for those jobs is to be personable enough to pacify an angry or aggressive lobbyist.
The organization of the trip was OK, but not great. I asked if we should have a game plan or a unified theme for each group of five that traveled together. The organizers basically said "wing it." I thought that was crap. These people are busy people trying to balance the problems of millions of constituents. If I know one thing, someone like that will want to hear a coordinated and well thought out summary of the purpose, benefit, and request/solution. But whatever, I did my best to convey a theme at our orientation and everyone seemed to be agreeable with it so we went with it.
I commented on the fact that my American education, and specifically my Indiana education, left be behind the international students when I entered graduate school. I spent about a year where I felt like I was playing catch up. Since we were meeting primarily with Indiana delegates and Indiana doesn't have a center for NASA like Ohio, Florida, Texas,… I guessed that education would be an easy sell. It turned out I was right on the money. My argument illustrated the momentum that President Kennedy built when we went to the moon and how there was a surge in engineers afterward because they were inspired. We haven't had that since and even now with the initiative to go to the moon and Mars we don't have it because there hasn't been the effort to inform and inspire the masses. If we make it to Mars and it is highly publicized, the kids would be self-motivated to be engineers and scientists. From that point I emphasized two things. The first being that if we can't get that public appeal for Mars now, once we get there we probably won't get farther for hundreds of years, and therefore we risk losing the ability for scientific inspiration as a form of motivation. The secondary point is that U.S. educational legislation lives (and will die) with the "no child left behind" idealism. By forcing the brightest students to be slowed down by the lesser we will create a situation where each generation of teachers possesses less knowledge than the previous. Therefore it becomes the responsibility of the child to motivate themselves. Again, without a goal the ability and the self awareness required for self motivation becomes diminished. Countries we consider "third-world" are investing in space exploration and launch capabilities. They are showing serious progress and competition and will eventually overtake us if we do not act.
One staff member we spoke with was military so I mentioned that the first "Space Lawyer" just graduated from a U.S. school. It will become a matter of international interest once other countries establish a significant presence on the moon and in space in general. Lunar resources, especially if water and power become scarce on earth, are an obvious area for international incident. Right now it's kind of like the old west - lawless. But unlike the old west, it's not guaranteed to be the property of the United States. Ideally space would be a unifying point for all the world's nations, but it is not human nature to play well with others. "There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum - Arthur C. Clarke." I think he knows better.
There are many more arguments in favor of space exploration. In the spirit of brevity I've only given the stripped down version of my group's focus. I feel those arguments are viable and pertinent and I should hope the U.S. government has the foresight to push for space now instead of scrambling to keep up later.
And now a deep thought…
"The meek shall inherit the Earth -- the rest of us will go to the stars."
1978 - from Notebooks of Lazarus Long