In order to achieve the “become a spacefaring society” portion of the Mach 30 mission, we can’t focus our efforts solely on scientists and engineers; we must also tap into imagination and spirit of adventure that will lead the rest of society to support our efforts to explore the galaxy. To that end, we are excited to share today’s guest post from Molly Duncan, a former opera performance major and current English teacher, about what she learned in her college astronomy class.
My freshman year of college, I took a course called Astronomy of the Universe. I took it because I needed a lab science, and this one didn’t take a two-hour chunk out of my very busy music major schedule, since the labs were at night at the observatory. It ended up being one of the best classes I ever took, and sparked in me an interest in cosmology that continues to this day.
I was not a stellar astronomy student. The mathematical models were far over my head. I only barely comprehended things like the size of the universe and how it is expanding. But I found myself looking forward to it every week. I hung around the professor’s office asking questions and trying to deal with the largeness of it all.
What I loved about cosmology, and what I still love about cosmology, is how it makes me think. This is a science that is constantly trying to conceive of ideas that are literally too large for our minds to understand. Thinking about the size of the universe forces us to take what we already know and shape it into a radical new model.
For instance, science tells us that the universe is expanding. Picture that. Most of use will think of an image like a ripple in the water moving constantly outward. Then science tells us that the universe is expanding, but not from one central point. As a matter of fact, there is no central starting point of the universe. How do we picture that?
(Seriously, someone give me an image. I’ve been struggling with this one for 15 years).
The space program has given us many wonderful things; it’s greatest legacy, though, may be the expansive thinking it has inspired in us. We have a different perspective of who we are in the world and in the universe because of the Hubble space telescope, our Mars twins Spirit and Opportunity, the Voyager probes, Columbia and her sister shuttles, and Tranquility Base on the moon. I hope that as the shuttle makes it’s final orbit, we find ways to keep our minds journeying beyond the atmosphere.