There was a time when children put aside their little boots and feathers and six-shooters. They stopped their unceasing pleas for Red Ryders and turned their wheedling and puppy eyes to space helmets and rayguns. All right, they wouldn’t give up on putting an eye out, but their heroes now fought Ming the Merciless, Tonga, The Black Falcon, and other evil warlords that…well…B.B. guns just wouldn’t put a dent in, really. It was space gun, spacesuit, space helmet, space ship, space hero time!
Every family with a radio gathered around in the evening to hear Buck Rogers had been frozen until the twenty-fifth century! Commander Buzz Corey and the Space Patrol had to take on a new threat every time the show came on! Comics and comic books had kids well primed for science fiction and then it poured out into their ears and straight into their minds. They were ready to go that day. If there had been a working vehicle on the pad any of them would happily have hopped in and jiggled their knee until take-off.
When television came along? It swept up all of those first Buck Rogers, Dale Ardens, and those who hadn’t really listened to those kiddy shows as whole neighbourhoods crowded into the first house brave enough to take on that much debt to get a television with a screen smaller than Fudgie the Whale. Children saw their kiddy shows and parents saw the news and series designed to make them paranoid.
WE HAVE TO GET INTO SPACE FIRST! The Ruskies Will Beat Us! And Then…
Who really knows what would come then? If you were of a fortunate age, you knew only that there was going to be a space ship on the moon someday. If you were especially lucky and you lived on the east coast of Florida at that time not so far from Cape Canaveral, you saw the ships go past (and some other wild things) and heard sonic booms all the time. And you would be with a bunch of family at your grandma’s, lying on the living room floor, packed in with your sisters and cousins, and watch the black and white images that looked a lot like you were watching through the screen door. It seemed boringly slow creeping towards the surface, then faster than you wanted it to move because it was there and it was done, and you realised, as with all life’s most amazing moments, you were still holding your breath. All of this because you were born just enough years before 1969 to remember that feeling in your heart until it stops beating. Forty years from those radio shows and I would have run to that rocket on the launch pad after seeing that. I still would.
We, the people of Earth, need that feeling. We needed a Moon Generation and we desperately need a Mars Generation. Young people like the ambitious “space nerds” (some judicious editing would have been much appreciated to remove the second hundred or so repetitions of that phrase) attending five days of intense tests and training at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The only kids I have seen this excited to get out of the house for awhile either had a Golden Ticket or were headed for Kings X 9 and 3/4.
Trainees are broken into small groups to accomplish such tasks as launching a handmade *ahem* rocket with the delicate hot-load of a raw egg inside. The rocket must reach a certain height–vertically, please–and return to Earth with their payload safe and unharmed. A Rube Goldberg assignment of a little team of robots are to be coded and altered to perform a series of deceptively simple tasks. None of the trainees seemed to think that one went so well. Simulations looked to be the hands-down winner, whether everyone survived the landing or not.
The documentary focuses on a handful of young people and, so, their groups, so hilarious “American Idol”-style fails are saved from lifetime humiliation. In a film about the unlimited span of the universe it is frustrating to see only the same faces and hear the same viewpoints over and over. Of course, the director may have felt a certain connection with these central figures, though in many cases it does not communicate through the camera. There are so many trainees there, a kaleidoscope of faces, but someone has removed all but the clear glass and one sliver of brown. So, how many voices in that constellation of stars are we really hearing?
It is an intriguing moment when one of the young women relates what went into applying for a Space Camp scholarship; take a peek at the website and you’ll see it is over $200/day for a kid her age. *crikey!* That’s another falling off point that is making this documentary both inspirational and sadly wide of the mark. Yes. We need that excitement, intelligence, and ambition. Exposing kids to an experience like Space Camp is a great idea to encourage that, in most cases. Everyone matures differently, naturally. But, virtually all of the exceptional minds we will need are out there working away in maths, sciences, and even discovering disciplines we don’t know of yet. And many we will never find. Brains waiting for that spark, that electric surge that turns on their brain, throwing blinding light throughout the spectrum in every direction… But, chances are they will never explode with that intense power, because *meh* they aren’t the “right” kind of people. There is no point dreaming of shooting through space if we leave some of our best minds out of the race.
We need everyone as excited as these kids, because, if there is a space program left when they are able to vote, it will be theirs. They need everyone on board, unlike now where some morons still think the moon landing was faked. (Yes, the USSR would have let us get away with that. Obviously.) They need to get and keep girls and women involved and enthusiastic about sciences and maths. Send some of those brilliant women to the top offices in the corporate and political worlds and their words will be heard. Get those words heard and funding for space exploration stops its sad shrinkage and even move back towards space race levels.
Anyone interested in worlds beyond ours, future generations, science, and seeing children work together on something positive and educational that truly excites them will enjoy this documentary. NASA fans will be glued to the screen and may even feel a little wistful; there will always be those among us who dream that it will happen in our lifetimes, but know we aren’t going to be the ones riding that path of fire into the stars. But these fearless, unstoppable future scientists may just get there. If not, they might be the ones on the ground making certain the rockets go vertical, and the hot loads get there safely and come back to Earth in one piece. If they want to.