RocketSTEM - January 2013
Inspiring the next generation of scientists, astronomers, engineers and explorers.
A conversation with the last ....on the Eugene Cernan Forty years have passed since he left mankind’s last bootprint on the Moon, but Gene Cernan is a man focused on the future. He strongly believes that inspiring dreams within children, and encouraging STEM education is the path to a future where we walk on the Moon again. Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt recently spent more than a half hour apiece discussing a variety of topics with RocketSTEM. The phone interviews were conducted by Chase Clark, with assistance from Anthony Fitch. The conversations have been edited for length. Cernan: “What we have to do is reenergize young kids’ imaginations. Challenge them to do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing. This is what real STEM programs are all about. It’s not just teaching math and science and technology. That will come. I’ve always felt that if you can get a kid’s attention, make learning fun, you can teach them, or they can learn anything along the way. That’s what our National Flight Academy 12 12 down in Pensacola, (Fla.) is really all about. Using aviation as the hook. Not to make aviators out of everybody, but hopefully doctors and scientists and engineers and teachers and all the things we need so desperately in this country. “It starts with that age group, when you get a kid’s attention and they can look for something to hold onto. For my generation the challenge was not just for those in the space program, but the challenge for the country in my generation’s time, was to do something that had never been done before. To go forth to where we have never been before. And we did it. “Now we have to impart that kind of challenge, that kind of dedication and commitment into young kids and give them something that they can latch onto. “I would like to see a commitment for us to go to the Moon. I don’t care if it’s in the next 10 or 40 years. The time frame is less important than the direction we take and give this generation collectively. give my grandkids, something to challenge them, something to look forward to. Out of that challenge, and I think one of the greatest spin-offs of the space program, particularly in those early days, was education, because I have young men and young women in their 40s and 50s coming out to me today and saying ‘Captain Cernan, thank you. I am an engineer. I am a technician. I am whatever I am because of what you did.’ Well it wasn’t what I did. It was what we, the nation, did at that point and time. “I think that is the underlying foundation for some real serious STEM programs, but they all need a hook. You can’t just put a book in front of a kid and say read it. You’ve got to have a reason to want to read it. It’s got to be a challenge to them. “ “The Flight Academy is – if anything – it’s Space Camp on steroids. We really are a high tech motivating operation. To have a kid come out of there and say ‘I didn’t know I could do that. Hey, I led a team of kids. Hey, we did it.’ And the kid can come out and, if they know they are capable of doing something they didn’t know they could do to start with, there’s nothing they can’t do in their lives. That’s what the foundation of a STEM program like the Flight Academy is all about.” Since leaving the Moon for the last time in 1972, mankind has not ventured beyond low Earth orbit. For Cernan, the Apollo 17 voyage marked the end of a distinct era in space exploration. Cernan: “There are two different space programs. Both technologically, philosophically and spiritually. One is an Earth orbit. And one is when you leave this planet of ours Continued on page 14 www.RocketSTEM.org