I do not have any children of my own, and the chances of me generating any are about the same as the human race developing a faster-than-light starship drive in my lifetime. That fact that I chose not to procreate doesn’t mean I don’t care about the younger generation.
When I was about six years old, a jolly and friendly geologist, built like a bull and named Wally Robbins, took me under his wing during one of our family vacations to the US. He gave me my first trilobite fossil (I went on to find some spectacular specimens in later life, but I still have that first little Elrathia kingii and still treasure it) and some lovely rocks and minerals. I watched him walk the beaches and rivers of New England at low tide, collecting rocks. His wife joked that the only exercise he ever got was when he bent down to pick up something of geological interest.
Were it not for Wally, I may never have followed my path into the world of scientific adventure and exploration. I remember how inspiring he was to me and—in my own small way—I try to pass it along.
Yesterday, I had the very great honor of participating in the Lunar and Planetary Lab‘s Apollo 11 40th Anniversary celebration. My staff and I set up a display of rare and unusual meteorites, as did several of our professional colleagues. I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting astronomer Thomas Bopp, co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp “the most widely observed comet of the twentieth century.” I also got to spend time with John Terry White, an aerospace expert and president of White Eagle Aerospace, and a most charming and fascinating man. Scott Schneewels astounded me with his collection of genuine Apollo mission historic artifacts, including a control panel from an actual Lunar Module, hand-woven memory from one of the command modules, and tools designed to collect and transport moon rocks.I was afraid that all of this “science stuff” might be a little dry for the scores of kids who were in attendance, and who were born more than thirty years after the Eagle touched down at Tranquility Base. There was no chance of that. We gave away small meteorites with identification cards, all day long, to wide-eyed children who were enthralled to hold something from outer space. And we distributed free DVDs, magazines, and postcards about meteorites and answered a million questions: “How does the Earth know there isn’t life on other planets?” (Well, that was a tough one)
If one of those kids decides to devote his or her life to aerospace, or meteoritics, or some other important scientific discipline, then we really are leaving something worthwhile behind. With budget cuts in research and education resulting in tragedies like the wonderful Flandrau Planetarium remaining closed for five days out of every seven, those of us who care about the future must take up the slack in other ways.
Photographs by Leigh Anne DelRay, Callisto Images © Leigh Anne DelRay, all rights reserved.