40 years ago, July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon, making the U.S. last to start but first to finish in the 'space race' with the Soviet Union. Armstrong's now famous words, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," inspired a generation of scientists.
To celebrate the anniversary of the first moon walk, a group called The Science Coalition asked university researchers across the country to share their thoughts about what America must do to ensure that these scientific frontiers are reached. Unsurprisingly, they asked for more money.
The Science Coalition is an advocacy group that wants more federal funding for academic scientific, medical, engineering and agricultural research. Some highlights from the scientists' comments are below:
- "Perhaps more than anything, we need to address the scientific challenge of providing more effective, efficient and diverse sources of energy to drive the global economy, its citizens, and its infrastructure," said William McDonough, professor of geology at the University of Maryland.
- "Instead of looking for a single innovation to transform transportation, the next great challenge will be a revolutionary and holistic reinvention of vehicles. The next 'moon landing' will be a new science-driven way of approaching automobiles … that goes beyond slashing mpg or substituting gas with electricity," said Dennis Assanis, Director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and the W.E. Lay Automotive Laboratory at the University of Michigan.
- "The 21st Century equivalent to putting a man on the moon will be our understanding of the human brain – and in particular, achieving the ability to stimulate the brain to repair itself, including restoring old memories and learning new information after damage and disease. … That understanding will revolutionize the way we treat devastating neurological injuries and disease," said Elissa Newport, Chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. "We're almost there – if we merely stop cutting science funding, these discoveries are around the corner."
Like most researchers, they have relied on taxpayer-funded federal grants throughout their careers to help support their work. And, like Dr. Newport, many spoke of the critical need for the U.S. to continue to invest in science and of what will be possible if there is strong and sustained funding for research.
- "We as a nation must realize that without a dedicated continuous support of scientific endeavors, our and our children's wellbeing cannot be sustained and improved. America must preserve its leadership in creativity by increasing funding for research and, even more importantly, by educating its children," said Alexander Rakhel, Distinguished Professor of Entomology, University of California Riverside, and Member of the National Academy of Sciences.
- "Like putting a man on the moon, answering these big questions would be a part of a journey to find our place in the Universe as well as preparing to extend our presence beyond earth. Few investments would leave a greater legacy to future generations or say more about our species," said Michael Turner, Professor of Astronomy&Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and former Chief Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory.
The perspectives of 29 scientists from universities across the country, including the University of California (Berkeley, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Irvine), University of Chicago, Cornell University, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Rochester, Wayne State University, and West Virginia University are available on The Science Coalition website.