Buzz in the Flesh: A Microcosm for Science in America

I had the opportunity a few months ago, largely thanks to @sociolinguista, to see Buzz Aldrin speak. It was pretty cool; even at 85, he’s still charming and sharp. Now-a-days, he’s mostly advocates for Martian exploration and colonization, and this comprised the bulk of the discussion. The session was part interview–done by Aldrin’s own son–part Q&A.

Before Buzz came out, a video explained his grand plan to reach Mars. Then, Buzz talked about optimal plans, etc. putting stations at L1, and choices for transfer orbits and hyperbolic intersects.

As much as I respect Buzz’s plans, I wonder what good they do. After all, the problem isn’t having a science plan. Planning is fun; there are entire video games where you plan and complete space missions. The problem is money and public interest. We have a public that doesn’t know or care, and as a result, there’s no money for the program.

As someone who studied physics (and has played enough KSP that it’s unhealthy), I understood what he was going on about. I don’t know that the majority of people in the audience did. There’s ways he could have helped, but didn’t bother, either by replacing jargon with a few extra words, or just taking a moment to explain some key concept briefly. A few extra words can go a long way.

Scientists have a duty, both to do honest science, but also to explain that science to others. That’s been done rather poorly over the last 50 years, and now we’ve got a significant segment of the public actively ignoring us, because no one really explained to them what’s going on in a way they could understand. It’s not that they can’t understand, it’s that we have to do a better job in helping them to do so.

 

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