Toward the end of last April, our astronomy class watched Interstellar during our unit on time dilation and relativity. It is an excellent film, and it still ranks as one of my favorites of all time. During the first act of the movie, however, one scene in particular sticks out to me. After the movie’s opening, the main protagonist Cooper argues with his daughter’s school principal about the aspects of space travel. After the principal suggests that rockets and spacecraft are “useless machines” and that children should be taught how to take care of the planet instead of filling their heads with “tales of leaving it”, Cooper makes an interesting statement:
“One of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI. And if we had any of them left, the doctors might have been able to find the cyst in my wife’s brain before she died, rather than afterwards. Then she could be sitting here listening to this, which’d be good, cos she was always the calmer one …”
Cooper is correct; space exploration yields so much more than just bragging rights and new frontiers to explore. It spurs new technologies, facilitates innovation, and provides just as much to the people on earth as the astronauts in space. Going back to astronomy class, we are learned about American space exploration and the history of the Space Race. At the end of the year and after testing was over, we watched Apollo 13 and learned as much as we could before summer began. After hearing the countless stories of brave men risking their lives to get to the moon and the fierce competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, I couldn’t help but think to myself all throughout class:
Many kids in my generation seem to forget just how incredibly fast technology grew during the time of the Space Race. In just a mere eleven years after the formation of NASA, the United States put the first man on the moon. Just a few decades after that, we went from strapping men to missiles to fully reusable space shuttles; and in the famous words of John F. Kennedy, we chose to do all of this “not because [it was] easy, but because [it was] hard…”
Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel as if the United States just stopped when the Cold War came to a close. I am aware that many of these technologies were developed just to prove that we were “better than them” and stick it to the Soviet Union. However, it does not excuse the fact that fifty years after man has landed on the moon, we have not gone much further. Instead, it seems that people have lost interest in exploring the stars because “we have enough problems on earth”. In fact, the arguments people make against space travel today are not dissimilar to the principal’s in Interstellar; many insist that we must take on the role of “caretaker” rather than “explorer”.
However, human beings are naturally inclined to be explorers. Ever since the dawn of society, humans have always wondered about what’s “out there” to the point in which they would build incredible new modes of transportation for the sake of exploration. For those who grew up during the Space Race, it was an exciting new next step for this age-old tradition. The rocket launches sparked many imaginations and inspired authors to conjure up fantastical stories about humanity was going to reaching distant planets in the year 2000.
Imagine their disappointment now.
Space exploration is not just practical; it’s necessary. And I feel as if my generation needs to take the reins and get us to Mars. We live in an exciting, prosperous time in which a mere cell phone has much more computing power than NASA had when they sent a man to the moon; the current generation can learn any skill at the push of a button or click of a mouse. There is so much potential to be found in the youngest generation. Therefore, we should teach them about the importance of exploration…and that if we want to solve the problems on earth, we must look up to the stars.
Alexandra Giller is a senior in high school.