As a young girl growing up in Montana, I remember being mesmerized by the stars and by the news of the Apollo 11 mission (which landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon with Michael Collins in orbit). Almost all of us who work in space-related fields have a similar stories to share of being inspired at an early age. President Obama himself has talked about being inspired during his childhood, when his grandfather lifted him on his shoulders so he could wave at astronauts arriving in Hawaii.
It’s the President’s belief that by encouraging more young people to engage with science, technology, engineering, the arts, math, and design we will be able to encourage a new generation of Americans to reach for new heights.
To help capture the imaginations of young people throughout our country, the President hosted a wonderful White House Astronomy Night. Joining the President on the South Lawn of the White House were students, scientists, engineers, makers and astronauts. We were also joined by Americans throughout the country who participated virtually via live stream and at events hosted by national parks, observatories, schools, museums, and astronomy clubs.
Once the sun set, we gathered with the students around telescopes with NASA astronomers and observed some of the stunning spectacles in our night sky. Earlier in the day, we shared some images from some of our space-based telescopes on the White House’s Instagram feed.
Perhaps one of these students will someday be the first American to set foot on Mars. Five years ago, President Obama came to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and laid out a transformative agenda for NASA, highlighted by a Journey to Mars that will culminate in sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
Today, we are closer than ever before in human history to sending our astronauts to Mars, and it quite possibly will be one of the amazing students I met at astronomy night that will take that first step, or who will provide the logistical support, design, orbital calculations, imagination, persistence, or vision to ensure mission success.
As our nation continues along our Journey to Mars, it is absolutely essential that more and more of our fellow citizens study the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. That’s why the President has proposed preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next decade, while broadening participation to inspire a more diverse STEM talent pool.
Monday, the President spoke to Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, who are aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and we saw the ISS pass overhead in the DC night sky. In just a couple weeks NASA will mark 15 years of continuous human habitation aboard the Station.
This means that kids younger than 15 have never known a day that human beings were not living and working, continuously in space. In the future, American children might never know a day where human beings are not pushing ever deeper into space.
If we are able to encourage a new generation of kids passionate about STEM subjects (and I include arts and design as well), then, as the President has said, “we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.”