21 November 2017 • Gideon Wille
‘We’re all astronauts’
In a packed auditorium on Wednesday, 15 November, Andre Kuipers talked about his trip into outer space. It wasn’t just about showing fascinating pictures of weightlessness (like doing push-ups without using your hands). No, Kuipers also had a serious message. We’re all astronauts on Spaceship Earth, and since we only have one spaceship, we’d better take good care of it.
Why are we so fascinated with outer space? Who hasn’t looked up at the stars on a summer night and wondered where ET lives? Who hasn’t ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Andre Kuipers did. And he made his dream come true. He responded to an ad in the newspaper and many years of training later, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched him into space. He may not have discovered ET’s home planet, but he did come to an understanding of the vulnerability of our own planet.
Astronaut and researcher
As Kuipers told about how he applied for the job, trained for it, and actually lived in a space station, he made it sound as if any of us could have done what he did. Essentially, what he said is true. Space travel isn’t reserved just for courageous characters with a test pilot history. Someone with a background as a scientist (Kuipers himself was originally a doctor and researcher) stands maybe even more of a chance.
Interesting students and teachers in technology
This brings us to the reason for Kuipers’ visit to our university of applied sciences. ‘This was the week that Education in Primary Schools devoted attention to science and technology’, said Gert van der Slikke, a Nature & Technology lecturer in Education in Primary Schools. ‘Our students visited Delft University of Technology and the NEMO Science Museum. By attending Kuipers’ lecture, we wanted to interest both our students and primary school teachers (they were also invited) in science and technology.’
Kuipers is a great ambassador for science (he made selfies with almost half of the audience) and knew how to enthral his listeners. He did this with pictures he took himself of Mother Earth and videos of life aboard the space station. He also has a great sense of humour. Kuipers put the bold image of astronauts into perspective by saying they are actually big babies. He related that they spent hours confined in the Soyuz capsule before the launch wearing a nappy, that the custom-made seats in the Soyuz were like huge infant carriers, and once they were in the space station they washed with baby wipes.
A great opportunity
After the lecture, the students, teachers and mentors left the auditorium inspired. Demi Boogaard, a second-year Education in Primary Schools student: ‘This is our technology week, so what a great opportunity to listen to someone who’s actually been in outer space. I was really looking forward to his story. What could we share from it with children? We could make good use of the photos he made from the space station and the satellite pictures he showed that revealed the harmful things man was doing to the planet. It was really obvious from the pictures. A good way to introduce the subject to children and ask them to devise a solution.’
Taking the first step
The Dutch astronaut was pleased to tell his story – particularly to future primary school teachers. ‘Our whole society is based on science and technology. Everyone has a mobile phone. Who doesn’t? Yet we never think about the fact that someone had to invent it, design it and program it. Now, though, we’re faced with a huge shortage of technicians at every level of expertise. If we can get youngsters excited about technology, we’ve already taken the first step.’
But Kuipers wanted to relate more than just a need for technicians. ‘We’re exhausting the planet; the Earth needs time to recover. I think it’s important to share this with children as well. We have to arrive at a balance; the resources on our planet won’t last forever at the rate we’re going. When you look at our planet from space, you become aware that we’re all astronauts on Spaceship Earth and that this spaceship has limited resources. Teachers could play an important role in sharing this story with children.’ In any event, Kuipers succeeded in bringing this message across to his audience. Now, it’s our turn. After all, if we do a good job of this and all of us take better care of our planet, IT just might have something to come back to.