Thanks to NASA’s Speakers Bureau, Professor Jay Reynolds of Cleveland State University and the Glenn Research Station agreed to visit my two intro writing classes today to talk about America’s return to the Moon, current research on Mars, and investigations of asteroids and protoplanets, which is what Prof. Reynolds is at the present involved in with the DAWN mission to observe Vesta and Ceres.
I asked Prof. Reynolds to speak to my classes about some of the things taking place right now at NASA, particularly in relation to NE Ohio, where the majority of my students are from, and to give some context to the work that NASA does. He did an excellent job of this in his two presentations today for my students. Based on the subjects that he covered, I believe that he filled in many gaps that I either didn’t have the time to cover or those things that didn’t occur to me at the time as my classes worked their way through Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars as part of the “Space Exploration and Your Future” theme of my intro writing classes.
Prof. Reynolds demonstrated his depth of knowledge about NASA and its missions while also engaging broader economic and political interests in response to questions put to him by my students. He displayed a contagious abundance of energy and excitement about his work and the work taking place at NASA that I believe carried over to some of my students in the two classes.
At the beginning of his presentation, he began simply by asking my students what they thought of the unauthorized, yet mission making, Apollo 8 picture of the gibbous Earth next to the lunar surface [find it here] and the Apollo 17 image of the fully illuminated Earth [find it here]. What he stressed with these images was that our missions to the Moon turned into missions about the Earth. Our going out there gave us, meaning humanity, a new perspective on our planet and ourselves as co-inhabitants of what Carl Sagan termed a pale blue dot.
He discussed the Space Shuttle, Saturn V, and Ares I and V launch vehicles [see my Lego versions here] in detail, which elicited many questions between the two classes. Other questions included: How safe are the launch vehicles? Why did we go to the Moon? Does anyone own the Moon? What do you do with Helium-3?
Prof. Reynolds’ presentation ended with a discussion of asteroids and the importance of locating and tracking those objects which cross or may eventually cross the orbit of the Earth. This is related to the work that he does for NASA with the help of undergraduate and graduate students from Cleveland State University in conjunction with the DAWN mission [some related info here].
I am thankful that NASA can make a special event like this possible, and I am especially grateful to Prof. Reynolds for taking the time and energy to drive down to Kent and spend the afternoon with my students. It was a terrific occasion to close out the Fall 2009 semester for my students.