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NASA administrator’s mission emboldens local crowd at space studies program distinguished lecture

Pete Shooner and Colleen Carow | Jul 2, 2015

NASA administrator’s mission emboldens local crowd at space studies program distinguished lecture

Pete Shooner and Colleen Carow | Jul 2, 2015

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden awakened hundreds of space disciples -- campus and community members, and participants of International Space University’s (ISU) 28th Space Studies Program (SSP15) – who gathered at Ohio University Wednesday night for one of SSP15’s final distinguished lectures.

“I need you to go out and preach the gospel,” Bolden said, proclaiming that the most important element humanity is missing in the effort to travel to Mars is the will to get there.

In an address that made the technical seem approachable and the seemingly impossible feel within reach, Bolden acknowledged that most of the audience – including more than 100 SSP15 participants -- was already among the “one percent of people who are fired up about space.” But he challenged those listening to go out and share their passion with the world.

“Martin Luther King, Jr., always said that preaching to the choir is a good thing, because you never want them to stop singing,” said Bolden, a four-time Space Shuttle pilot/commander and retired Marine Corps general who fought in Vietnam and Kuwait.

To further galvanize the crowd, Bolden described the many successes of NASA and its partners, from the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Telescope to the international collaborations that put the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. He also explained what the agency has planned for the future, including the real and ultimate goal of putting humans on the red planet.

“We’ll be swearing in a new class of astronaut candidates soon, and it’s not anywhere close to being the final group,” Bolden said. “So keep that in mind, those of you pursuing your degrees today at Ohio University: Your generation is going to be the one going to Mars.”

Prior to his public remarks, Bolden hosted an SSP15 participant session, fielding questions that ranged from commercial space to the challenges of working with Congress to international partnerships. In his view, international cooperation will be essential to human exploration of deep space – a theme Bolden infused into the evening.

“It’s an amazing time for our field and really for everyone on the planet,” Bolden said during his public lecture. “We’ve made so many giant leaps in exploration in recent years. It’s truly an age of marvels, and many of our triumphs have come about because of partnership with other nations.”

Working across cultures and governments is not always an easy task, however, he noted. And while the commonalities among all humans far outnumber our differences, according to Bolden, learning about those differences is vital.

“Geneticists say that there’s just one percent that’s different in us. The other 99 percent? We’re all identical genetically,” Bolden explained after leaving the stage podium to interact directly with the guests. “You need to understand that one percent, because it’s that one percent that causes us to hate each other, fight each other, kill each other.”

Amber Green, an incoming Russ College of Engineering and Technology student visiting campus as part of the college’s six-week STEP-UP program for multicultural students, said Bolden’s down-to-earth nature and personal approach – such as sharing his love for his three granddaughters -- motivated her to “keep going.”

“It was really inspiring to see someone, who looks just like us, at such a high point in such a globally respected organization like NASA. When he was asking for questions, he chose questions from a lot of females, and he asked where people were from -- people of all different races, from China, Israel, Africa,” said Green, who is from Cleveland. “One of my goals is to not only be successful in engineering as a black female, but to inspire other females from the inner city where I’m from, because we need more females in STEM and tech fields,” she added.

ISU participant Oriol Gasquez-Garcia, an international project manager in space research and development from Barcelona, was affected as well.

“Administrator Bolden gave an emotional speech about uniting international efforts to reach our common goals in space and reach the final frontier of our generation: Mars. Now, it is our job to inspire more people to pursue STEM careers and keep pushing the edge of knowledge and technology for the betterment of humankind, on Earth and beyond,” he said.

The 140 million-mile trip to Mars – which currently would require a three-year mission due to travel time and wait time for planetary alignment before returning home -- will take more than a crew of brave astronauts. According to Bolden, deep space exploration by humans will not be achieved by one country or company – it must indeed be a global effort.

“There’s an old African proverb that says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,’” Bolden said. “I don’t want to go fast. I want to go a long, long, long, long way. So I need all of you.”