This week we celebrate the first landing on the Moon. Apollo 11 lifted off on July 16, 1969, landed on the Moon, July 20th. Six hours later Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot there.
I remember it very well. I was at a Wisconsin lake home owned by friends of the family. We were sitting on the floor, in front of the TV set, watching a spaced suited astronaut, some 240,000 miles away, make history.
I was 12, and come fall l would be what we call a STEM kid now days. I was signed up for advanced math, science, computer classes, even Latin. For the next 3 years, my most formative, we watched 6 more Apollo missions, including the famed Apollo 13 which captivated us for other reasons. The final Apollo mission, 17, was in December of 1972 midway through my sophomore year of HS.
Until recently, I never really realized just how lucky I was. There was never a better time to be a smart kid. It was cool to be smart, to know that you were up to the task of helping further the mission when you got older. We had seen what a high it was to be smart successful, Apollo 11; and how low it was to be smart unsuccessful, Apollo 1. How engineering could react and save lives, Apollo 13.
During the rest of High School and College the space program slowed up. The Shuttle program was being developed and the only real highlight was the rollout of the first orbiter Enterprise. Impressive but it was incapable of flight yet, no engines, no heat shield. But the ground work and the path had been laid, for the shuttle’s future and for my future.
What are we doing now to inspire today’s smart kids? What are we doing to tell them (boys AND girls) not only that it’s alright to be smart, but it will take you places you can’t even dream. To steal a quote from one of my favorite geek movies Real Genius (1985) “When you’re smart, people need you!” Early in my career I helped develop and manufacture recording, computer and, test equipment. Then I moved into medical devices. I was involved in projects like pacemakers, heart valves, ambulatory drug pumps and peripheral vein grafts. It was very gratifying work saving and improving lives and I tried to project that. In my small circle, my youngest brother told me he went into engineering because of me. Two of my children watched and listed to my exploits and made engineering their careers. More recently, I have opened my business doors to young people, provided tours of what we do, employed a few, and tried to illuminate how engineering and manufacturing effects everyday lives.
Today’s STEM programs are great progress, and they are laying there for kids to grasp and pursue, but STEM isn’t all that tangible. As with all great missions, we need to provide a vision, like the Apollo program did. We cannot tell them the path to take, we must SHOW them the path and what amazing things there are along the way.
So I’ll ask again, what are you doing to help inspire today’s kids?