Ken Mattingly And STEM

This morning’s RealClearEducation Today took a look at STEM. You can get these in your inbox each morning along with highlights of the news and analysis that is leading the RealClearEducation site each morning.

RealClearEd Today 04/22/2014: Obama’s Hurdles

By RealClearEducation

Good morning, it’s Tuesday April 22. At RealClearEducation this morning we have top headlines in education news, commentary, analysis, and reports. Dan Willingham’s weekly column is out today. He writes about spoodles and sponges: Why kids don’t learn better just because they’re young, and what really works. As we do each weekday we’ll update the site throughout the day with new content – our main page as well as sidebars that focus on specific parts of the education sector in depth.

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On this date in 1972, astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke were bounding across the surface of the moon in their lunar roving vehicle. The pair spent about three days exploring the lunar highlands and learning about its geology.

That’s right, they were driving around the moon! Yet somehow America struggles to make science and engineering interesting to young people?

Young and Duke were two-thirds of the three-person Apollo 16 mission, which streaked into space in the early afternoon of April 16. The third astronaut on board was Thomas Kenneth “Ken” Mattingly. Mattingly, the Command Module Pilot, was kept off the ill-fated Apollo 13 because of a medical concern. Apollo 16 was his first flight and he later flew twice as Commander on the Space Shuttles Columbia and Discovery. While Young and Duke were on the lunar surface, Mattingly orbited it and took pictures, helping map the moon. He later walked in space for more than an hour to retrieve those materials on the way home.

Later this week, US News & World Report is gathering education and business leaders in Washington for its annual STEM summit. Among the issues: How to get kids more enthusiastic about STEM careers. Looking back on even that grainy footage of the Apollo launches it seems like a question that should answer itself. Except there was only one more moon mission after Apollo 16, America hasn’t been back since. And you may have noticed the Space Shuttles now live in museums. Today, the Russians and commercial operations support the International Space Station. If the adults aren’t interested why should the kids be?

There is also the problem of preparation. America’s STEM strategy is largely predicated on inducing young people to choose science, technology, engineering or math instead of another field. That’s playing on the margins. The real action lies with all the students who might choose a STEM career if they could – in other words if they were taking the right preparatory classes and were better served by their schools.

But imagination and inspiration matter, too. In his NASA oral history, Mattingly recalls borrowing a plane to fly down and see a Gemini launch. It was Gemini 3, piloted, coincidentally, by his future Apollo colleague Young.

“I had not been impressed with the space program at that point. I thought the pictures in the magazines of Mercury and Gemini weren’t visually appealing. Airplanes are supposed to be smooth, and there’s an elegance to them, and these things, I can’t imagine how anybody could be interested in that. It just had no appeal.

So I got this airplane, and my friend had given me all the radio frequencies. So I went down and orbited over the Banana River and listened in to the activities on the air-to-ground. It lifted off.

And I watched this thing go. I heard the voice communications and when I saw some F-4s that were trying to fly chase to take pictures of it or something, and I saw airplanes that were as good as we had in service fly up and this rocket walked away from them and just kept going.”

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