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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Mars Rover Shows How Space Exploration Inspires Future Scientists and Develops New Technologies, Says MU Astronomer

Funding space exploration is an investment in America’s future, Angela Speck said.

July 30, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Timothy Wall, walltj@missouri.edu, 573-882-3346

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Space exploration has benefited humanity with new technologies, and inspired young people to explore career in the sciences and engineering. However, in the past decade, funding for space-related organizations, such as NASA, has decreased dramatically. Angela Speck, professor and director of astronomy at the University of Missouri, believes that public interest in space exploration remains high and that increased funding will benefit the United States and the rest of the world in the long run.

“The landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars is the latest space exploration event to make headlines,” Speck said. “During the transit of Venus, hundreds of people waited for hours at MU’s Laws Observatory to catch a glimpse of the rare event. The entire nation watched as the final space shuttle was retired. These events show that people are still interested in space and would likely support increased funding for further study and exploration.”

Speck said that the space program benefits the public in several ways: personal inspiration, contributing knowledge about the universe and by leading to technological advances. NASA’s inventions include improved artificial limbs, firefighting equipment, Velcro, compact discs and smoke detectors. Speck also notes that NASA space missions provide inspiration and national pride.

“The Apollo space missions in the late 1960s and early 70s provided inspiration for people in my generation to strive to become astronauts,” Speck said. “Although most of us did not become astronauts, many became leaders in science and engineering. The aspiration to ‘reach for the stars’ kept students motivated to study basic math and physics, until they found their vocations.”

Speck worries that if space funding is not increased and more advances are not made in space technology, America may suffer a lost generation of young people with no interest in pushing the frontiers of human knowledge.

“Once you lose one generation’s interest, then it could take another generation or two to regain interest,” Speck said. “That could be devastating to the United States’ position in the world.”

Speck says that citizens can help the space program in the U.S. by sending personalized letters to their representatives in the U.S. Congress. The American Astronomical Society has many helpful tools to help citizens write, call or personally visit their representative. For more information visit: http://aas.org/policy/contact.php.

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