Straight from the Astronaut's Mouth
Toward the end of our stay at the University, the DO-IT participants attended a presentation made by former astronaut and current UW professor "Pinky" Nelson on astronomy and what it was like to be an astronaut. The presentation was tremendous; he did an excellent job of making you feel like you were sitting on the seat next to him in the space shuttle as it soared into the heavens pulling five g's.
Professor Nelson discussed dark matter, the invisible matter that is supposed to make up some ninety percent of the universe. He also mentioned the fact that a comet is supposed to be barreling into Jupiter next summer. He gave inspiration to DO-IT participant, Anna, who wants to be the first blind person in space, and answered my questions about nuclear rockets and space shuttle toilet facilities. He made what is already a fascinating subject to me even more so. I give the lecture a thumbs up.
Other than the search for religious truth, in my opinion, there is nothing more worthwhile than the pursuit of knowledge pertaining to how the universe works and how it began and how it will end. When man looks up to the stars, he not only sees beautiful far away suns, he sees the very forces that originated life itself. The iron in our very blood cells was born from fiery super novae.
As we record the history of the universe, we are ultimately recording the origin of humanity. To me, peering toward the stars is a mystical experience; it invokes the same sense of awe as one gets when pondering the mysteries of the spiritual. The countryside becomes a grandiose temple from which stargazers make offerings to the heavens.
The wonderful thing about astronomy today is the fact that people born with different abilities are necessary for its success. As professor Nelson stated, not only are brilliant thinkers such as Stephen Hawking needed, but technicians and engineers are needed as well. Theories are great, but it's nice to have evidence to back them up or to figure out where they went wrong.
There are positions which require many different skills in the field of astronomy. For someone who has a severe mobility impairment like me, the theoretical side of science is appealing; whereas, others may prefer the hands on approach.
Astronomy is good stuff; I wish everyone could feel about it the way I do. I, and I believe most everyone else, was very appreciative for the time Dr. Nelson took out of his schedule to be with us. It was a very worthwhile learning experience.