It’s been an exciting summer for space fans: NASA has set a launch date for Artemis 1, the first stage of an ambitious return to the Moon project, and the past month has seen the release of the first color images from the James Webb Telescope, giving mankind the deepest picture ever taken of the universe.
NASA’s current work is arguably the most inspiring in the past 50 years, which reinforces one of its key missions: to support science, technology, engineering, and math education efforts ( STEM).
And it is obvious that space exploration inspires young people to study science.
Space missions that inspire graduates
As the Council on Foreign Relations noted last year, the percentage of science and engineering graduates peaked in the late 1960s, around the time of the moon landing, and then slowly declined for several decades before the US federal government began to re-emphasize the importance of STEM education.
Meanwhile, a study published in 2009 in the journal Nature revealed that the Apollo program had inspired half of the scientists surveyed.
The next generation of astronauts and scientists are sure to be watching NASA’s latest scientific and technological feats and dreaming of their own future adventures.
However, it is important to ask whether the space pioneers of tomorrow are getting the support they need to make their dreams a reality.
In a letter published recently, more than 600 leaders from nonprofits, universities and the tech world called for more computer science to be taught in schools. “The United States is at the forefront of technology in the world, but only 5% of our high school students study computer science,” the letter notes.
Certainly, there has been progress over the years. More than half of schools offer computer courses, the letter reads – up from 35% in 2018. In contrast, Hispanic students, English language learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students are underrepresented in computer science in high school, relative to their state’s population.
IT attracts few women
It even seems that it is becoming more and more difficult to encourage certain populations to pursue certain fields of STEM. Last year, for example, the National Sciences Foundation (NSF) released data showing that the proportion of women earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science fell from 27% in 1998 to 19.9% in 2018.
Over the past two decades, the share of women receiving bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics has also declined.
“The academic pipeline for women earning advanced computer science degrees may be affected, as graduate enrollment will be affected by a lower proportion of women receiving a bachelor’s degree in computer science,” the NSF report said.
Space economy offers opportunities for young entrepreneurs
This is a worrying trend, given the opportunities currently available to graduate students in technical fields. The rapidly growing space economy offers obvious opportunities for young entrepreneurs, given government contracting requirements that require doing business with small businesses.
“If I was a graduate student with a great idea, I wouldn’t let the fact that I’m a one-man business stop me from doing business,” NASA official Kenneth Bowersox said earlier this year.
“If you have the passion and the ideas, you can find a way to be integrated into the system and be part of what we do in low orbit and what we do beyond low orbit. »
Legos on the Moon
While NASA’s current initiatives are about developing advanced technologies and advancing understanding of the universe, they also involve efforts specifically aimed at encouraging diverse participation in STEM fields. Notably, the Artemis mission — named after Apollo’s twin sister — will result in the first woman and person of color landing on the Moon.
Before real astronauts return to the Moon, NASA has teamed up with LEGO Education to send two minifigures, named Kate and Kyle, to the Moon aboard Artemis 1 to inspire young children to discover space.
Both figurines are the main characters of the series Build to Launch: A STEAM Exploration Seriesa 10-part series focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math.
NASA and young people
This partnership is one of many NASA collaborations and initiatives designed to spark student interest in the Artemis mission. The space agency partners with organizations such as the Girl Scouts of the USA and runs competitions like the Lunabotics and Lunabotics Junior Challenges, which challenge students to build lunar robots.
NASA has also produced a series of graphic novels and digital platforms, First-Womanwhich tells the fictional story of the first woman to explore the Moon.
This year’s bustling activity is just the beginning of a new era of space exploration. NASA and private sector scientists are embarking on long-term projects to explore Mars, study exoplanets, and explore the limits of the universe.
But to truly succeed in space, the next generation will need more than dreams and encouragement – they’ll also need real support on the ground.