Space: The Perpetual Frontier

by Alex E. Tavlian/DPR Editor-in-Chief

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It’s the final frontier of  exploration, yet there are so many aspects of space that have yet to be researched on such a public scale as the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

Without a Space Shuttle program to speak of, and limited funding allocated to NASA, it seems that the industry that the United States dominated for many decades is being led by other countries and their space programs.

Despite claims to the contrary: Space exploration still matters.

The sheer amount of research that is borne of space exploration ought to be reason enough, but one Canadian proved that exploring space has far-reaching implications for the Earth-bound.

Chris Hadfield, the commander of the International Space Station’s Expedition 35, answered some of the burning questions of Earth’s space wonderers – from how to wash your hands to how to eat in space..

Having seen most of his instructive and whimsical videos from the Space Station, I thought that Hadfield had become Canada’s greatest public relations tool while orbiting 230 miles above Earth. Then I realized, he was the greatest PR tool for space exploration ever.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo]

Above: Prior to the ending of Expedition 35, Hadfield filmed the first music video in space (naturally, it was of David Bowie’s classic hit Space Oddity. Credit: Chris Hadfield

To rewrite a quote from The Godfather Part II, “…If history has taught us anything, it is that you can make space exploration relevant.”

The work that NASA and Soviet engineers, astronauts and cosmonauts undertook during the Space Race to land on the Moon was quite beyond the comprehension of most average citizens (including this writer). But the Apollo program lives on because of the human element perpetuated by astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong and flight director Gene Kranz.

While the legacy of the Space Shuttle program may be the image of Sally Ride and its two disasters – Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 – there is a recent counterweight counteracted in the major success of the Mars Rover project, notably Curiosity.

The public face of Curiosity – Iranian-American engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, known as the Mohawk Guy – reintroduced the iconicism of NASA and space exploration.

And then, of course, Hadfield. His legacy, which is not written in stone, is highlighted by his secondary mission: demystifying some of the basic elements of habitating in outer space and inspiring the globe to reinvest in space exploration.

NASA and every other space agency has something to learn fro Hadfield: the future of space exploration is never truly over and that it is most successful when you can connect the billions of dollars spent for research and missions to the public.

Alex E. Tavlian (Public Service ’14) is Editor-in-Chief of Davis Political Review. He can be reached at aetavlian@ucdavis.edu

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