Someone commented on my post ‘Are STEM students watching Elon Musk’s rocket shoot to outer space?’ by saying ‘I don’t think about space travel much these days. It feels like yesterday’s science. Sending people up to a space ‘station’ feels like a diversion from more important problems like climate science, better energy and agriculture, environmental science and human health.’

That’s hard to argue. But then there’s the Elon Musk factor. 

Here’s a guy from South Africa who came to America, made a mint when he sold PayPal, and is best known for producing the Tesla electric automobile. But Musk had the bold vision of starting a rocket company that would someday perform important missions in space and formed SpaceX.

Yesterday, he pulled off what everyone thought was impossible. He kicked Boeing’s ass, partnered with NASA, and launched a rocket to the space station with a couple astronauts on board which connected with the space station faster than I could fly to Australia. 

Blasting off from home

The flight was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was scrubbed by weather. Being a science geek, I tuned into the Discovery Channel leading up to the launch like I was watching the Super Bowl Pre Game Show, and they didn’t disappoint bringing on experts, celebrities, and tons of details of this historic effort. With 17-minutes to go til blast off, it was all called off.

I was right back in front of the TV on Saturday wondering what the Discovery Channel was going to do since they laid it all out on Wednesday. They showed some of the old stuff mixed in with the new to make the pre-launch show interesting. 

Remembering sitting with my dad in 1969 to watch the first men land on the moon reminded me how far technology has advanced since then. 

  • Back then we watched on a 13-inch black & white TV with rabbit ears. Saturday, I watched on a 40-inch flat screen in color on cable TV. 
  • Back then the picture was fuzzy and unclear. Saturday was in HD. 
  • Back then I don’t remember how the astronauts were transported to the rocket. Saturday, they were driven in a pair of Tesla automobiles.
  • Back then when the rocket booster detached, it dropped in the ocean never to be seen again. Saturday, it detached and I watched it on its entire journey back through the atmosphere to land perfectly on a ship in the middle the ocean to be reused again – now that’s amazing. 

My wonder whether kids were watching was answered during the pre-launch show when they showed a live shot of a 5th grade class joining their teacher on Zoom – on a Saturday, no less. 

I had to make time to watch the capsule dock with the space station this morning. In 1969, there’s no way I could have broke out my iPad and connect on a mobile network to watch the NASA channel on YouTube in perfect HD clarity while listening to every word crystal clear via Bluetooth on the truck speakers. 

I was blown away how they brought such clarity to the screen. Here’s the rocket right after it detached heading back to that big blue planet

I recall how excited folks were when the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ came out that featured the black women of NASA during the space program of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that same excitement in our local schools for this launch even though they call themselves offering a STEM education. 

There’s nothing more STEM than space travel. They don’t call the hard stuff ‘rocket science’ for nothing. 

I wish more educators would give more than lip service to getting our kids involved in the sciences. There’s so much opportunity in the field. And, as Elon Musk demonstrates, there’s always a new way to benefit from yesterday’s science.