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Last Flight of the Endeavor — A Case for Science

A Morning of Amazement

I, like many people (it turns out), went out to watch the last flight of the Endeavor today as it flew on the back of a 747 over much of California. I drove to Sacramento to watch it soar over the state capital. I only saw it for brief moments in the sky, and I only managed to snap a few pictures but the day still profoundly affected me. It turns out that it isn’t this picture of the space shuttle flying through the sky that is my favorite of the day:

space shuttle on top of a plane

Nope. My amazement of the day wasn’t from that one small moment in time. I certainly loved watching it fly over! But my amazement was from this picture.

Standing room only, in the middle of the street!!!

And from this one, and this one, and THIS ONE:

In fact, even those with super privileges got into it:

In short, people came out of the woodwork, to watch mere seconds of science fly by.

Getting to the Scene

The adventure started when I first headed out from my home town and drove toward Sacramento. I began seeing more and more people lined up on the sides of the road, along the levees, and in parks and open spaces. It took me a few passes of these crowds to realize I wasn’t alone in this desire to see this great achievement of science in the sky.

My first thought, as I entered downtown Sacramento, was “Holy Cow, where am I going to park?”. It was at that point I knew I was in trouble. I was arriving far far too late and had completely underestimated the popularity of this event. I ended up parking about 12 blocks away and had only a few minutes to get to my ideal shooting spot, so I held my camera tightly in one hand, my bag in the other, and started sprinting toward the capital grounds.

There were people everywhere!

So, Why was I Amazed at the Ground Instead of the Sky?

Seeing the masses of people gathering to watch just a brief glimpse of one of our country’s most impressive scientific achievements gave me hope. People had taken time off work. Students left distant classrooms to study inspiration. People waved flags. People stood in standing-room-only areas in the middle of the street. People screamed, clapped and cheered. Oh, how they cheered!

You don’t see this kind of support for most things that the nation has done lately. You don’t see people gathering together to celebrate bipartisan fighting. Wars being fought anywhere. Food stamps. Obama-care. Taxes. No: for every other issue we stand apart in small groups. Frequently yelling.

But for science, for our crowning technological achievements, for NASA: people stand together. We cheer when our little robots land on another planet. We gather in the streets to watch a space shuttle, no longer even flying under its own power, fly overhead. And we celebrate our nation and its successes.

Seeing all of these people together, for one goal: to catch a glimpse of our nation’s accomplishments give me hope. Lots of hope.

Our Nation Needs Science. Now.

Our achievements in science bring us all together. There isn’t one group on one side of the street shouting at the group on the other side of the street. No, they’re all standing together in the middle of the street, for once, and looking upward together. And smiling. And cheering.

The only sad part of the day, for me, was the realization that our science budgets have been so drastically cut lately. Sure, we have many companies that are inching along for the next great near-term invention that will make them billions. But, the funding to look far into the future and to dream about the next huge thing keeps getting axed. I’ve never heard anyone say “we should do less science”. Or “we shouldn’t find a cure for cancer”. Or “we shouldn’t extend our life expectancy any further”. Sure, we’ve all talked about prioritizing this over that, but I’ve never heard any one shout “yes!!!” when NASA’s budget gets slashed. There are only sighs from those who realize it had to be done because some other pet-project was more important.

Go back to the pictures above. Look at people gathering to stare in awe at the space program that has always bound us together as a nation. Kids dream of being a part of it. They dream of space. Of walking on the moon. They dream of accomplishing the amazing. Of achieving the impossible. They dream of NASA. But most importantly, they dream. And they ask “What if?”. And they believe in their hearts “that could be me!”.

Write Someone. Write Everyone

Our nation needs to get back on track. You can help. You can continue to fill the streets. To cheer for NASA. To scream when rovers land on distant planets.

But you can also write people. Important people with decision making powers. The ones you elected. These pictures and these words are released under the Create Commons, Non-Commerical licence. Please feel free to print them and send them to your representatives. Show people that we stand together as a nation when it comes to our scientific achievements. And can accomplish amazing things together. Pin the pictures on your refrigerators. Show them to children. And don’t ever forget to dream. And then build those dreams.

Please share these ideas. Especially if you have a senator in your pocket.

And If You Don’t Believe Me

The man I’d most like to have over for dinner, so he could fill my brain with endless science, is Niel deGrass Tyson. And he’s said all of this the best. Multiple times. In multiple ways:

And he’s right. Absolutely right.

We NEED NASA.

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