Not long ago, I took my two daughters out of school for the day and the three of us went on a field trip to Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. I made a deal with them: they could miss school for the entire day if they promised to listen to everything I told them, read everything I asked them to read, and answer questions at the end of the day. I wasn’t taking them out of school to ride simulators and eat freeze-dried ice cream; we were going in search of inspiration.
The idea was prompted by the arrival of Discovery (which I also took them out of school to watch). I was about the age of my youngest daughter when the Space Shuttle Columbia first launched on April 12, 1981, and now, thirty-one years later, we were witnessing the (hopefully temporary) end of manned space flight in the United States. It suddenly occurred to me that without adequate education, children today might never know that:
- Putting astronauts into low Earth orbit was once considered almost routine (the Space Shuttle fleet flew a total of 135 missions);
- Forty-three years ago — more than four years before I was even born — man first walked on the moon, accomplishing a feat that doesn’t seem even remotely possible in today’s economic and political climate;
- As children, we frequently saw the Concorde — a supersonic transport jet capable of traveling at over Mach 2 — fly overhead as it landed or took off from Dulles airport, conveying passengers from New York to Paris in only 3.5 hours — over twice as fast as brand new passenger jets being built today.
While I recognize that there’s a lot of fantastic innovation going on right now, we also appear to be in an era when the best way to inspire future generations is to look to the past.