By Joe Noriel
President, Petaluma Museum
“We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” – John F. Kennedy
It was September 12, 1962 when President Kennedy gave his famous speech, and helped to inspire an entire generation to look beyond their earthly home and reach for the stars. As the Space Shuttle leaves Earth this year on its final mission, it’s more important than ever that we not forget Kennedy’s words and America’s commitment to the exploration of space.
The economic impact of the space shuttle program coming to an end is already being felt. Expected job losses at Boeing, NASA’s prime contractor for Space Shuttle operations, will pale in comparison to the estimated 7,000 jobs expected to be lost in the state of Florida and numerous other contracted employees throughout America. The United States, once the front runner in the exploration of space, now finds itself slowly losing the race. NASA’s budget is projected to drop by $103 million this year, and the President has recently announced plans to cancel NASA’s Constellation program, which would have sought to send astronauts back to the moon. With these recent developments, it has become clear that in the coming decades the challenge will fall on us as individuals to keep the dream alive, and to inspire and educate the new generation on the importance of space travel and the study of science.
The Petaluma Museum most recently had the honor of hosting a Smithsonian exhibition featuring deep space photography that included an amazing collection of meteorites on loan from the California Academy of Science. I must say it was heart-warming to see so many parents bringing their children to see the exhibition and very encouraging to see how much they enjoyed the presentation. With our schools suffering numerous cut backs due to a strained economy, and our educators being forced to eliminate valuable educational programs, I think it’s important for us all to instill in the younger generations an appreciation of space. As we reach out to Mars and the surrounding planets, let’s remember it will not be us who make these journeys but the younger generation. A child right now in elementary school most likely will be the first human visitor to Mars. We can’t wait for another inspirational speech from our leaders before we take action.
I believe the study of space can inspire not only a love of science but also can be a catalyst for creating more thoughtful people. As I watched the visiting children study the large images of the cosmos I could see them brimming with excitement, but more importantly they were asking thoughtful questions of their parents as they pondered the amazing beauty and complexity of space. What a wonderful gift to give them—the opportunity to step outside their media-saturated world and ponder their own place in the universe.
Joe Noriel is the President and chief curator at the Petaluma Historical Museum in California. Since becoming president, Mr. Noriel has helped the museum receive many awards including the Certificate of Appreciation from the Vietnam Veterans of America, State Congressional Recognition from the Office of Congressman Mark Leno, and the Jean Tourow Award from the Sonoma County Historical Society for the museum’s unique and memorable exhibits. Mr. Noriel also plays an active role in the community, and has established several local holidays including “Holocaust Memorial Day” and “Welcome Home Day”.