TED Conversations

Mathieu Isidro

public information officer, European Southern Observatory


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Are we losing interest in space and astronomy, and if so, how can we inspire the next generation?

In times of budget cuts and crisis, science is often left behind for more pressing issues. Costly projects, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, are now endangered. Astronomy and space science in general requires enormous amounts of funding and cooperation between agencies such as NASA, ESA, JAXA, etc.
As projects have become less ambitious because they are too costly, and risk management has prevented agencies from attempting complicated and innovative missions (the explosion of Columbia grounded the fleet for months), we have lost people's interest in space and astronomy. People need to be inspired, and it is through such images as those of Armstrong on the moon (now more than 40 years ago), or the images of the rovers on Mars or on Titan that we can inspire the next generation of astronomers and space administrators, and reignite interest (and thus funding) in space.
Now that the shuttle program has ended (and thus freed a sizable portion of NASA's budget) and even though the scientific usefulness of astronauts on planets has been put into question, shouldn't we at least make Man on Mars a reality for the sake of our children? Shouldn't we attempt more daring and innovative missions to new places, like Europa? Enceladus? Io?

  • Aug 13 2011: I think a lot of focus on space and science in general has been lost in certain nations.

    The growing concern over maintaining and funding welfare programs has drawn the majority of attention and as people have become more engrossed with an entitlement attitude, space seems less important than ever to them.

    I jokingly add that perhaps the only way to renew interest in space is to make the claim that state-sponsored welfare checks and debit cards can only be found in space mined on faraway planets.
  • Aug 17 2011: I am one of the few who is inspired to go to space, not only in our solar sytem but to colonize others and to move foward past our stupidity of not focusing on space, science, and knowledge, by the way im only 14 and im interested in this and an going to spend my life in this and trying to colonize space.

    "That which is, is not unimportant."
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    Aug 13 2011: I feel that it is important to inspire the next generation, but with technology what it is today, there is not the means of manned space travel to anywhere further than the Moon, and we have done that on countless occasions. Dreaming about one day reaching Mars as we have the Moon will always be in the hearts of astronomers and everyone who looks through a telescope, amateur or not. This is the dream we have to keep alive, and with the help of things like Kepler, we can keep that dream of one day reaching other planets alive. Kepler is doing amazing things with understanding other solar systems and planets and for me that in itself is inspiring. I think the next generation needs to be taught more of the use of the Sciences and Mathematics at a young age beyond 2 + 2 = 4. I understand that a base understanding is required, but realizing the ramifications of that base understanding is also very important. If I would have known at a young age the wonders of infinity and that through math one can contemplate the shape of the Universe, I would have become a Mathematician. The wonders of the solar system have been on the mind of humanity from our inception. We have always looked to the stars for answers, and we always will, even through budget cuts and space shuttle tarmacs.
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    Aug 12 2011: To the US: Reinstitute the Shuttle Program!
  • Aug 12 2011: I think that we may have over-Romanticized space and all astronomy related subjects with movies, video games and so on. Don't get me wrong, I love good space-based films and so on, but they portray such a non-realistic view that many may be discouraged when they find out things like space travel can easily kill you, the beautiful nebulas and artificially color enhanced and that the nearest star is unreachable within our life-time.
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    Aug 12 2011: I believe that with images such as you describe and like the one below, we will never abandon our quest to comprehend the universe.