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The Power of Potential


Last night, my family and I joined millions of other viewers around the world, as the SpaceX Corporation celebrated a major scientific and technical milestone. In case you missed it, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed upright on a designated landing pad only ten minutes after launching from Cape Canaveral. The second stage, as planned, continued with its mission to deliver 11 Orbcomm satellites into low Earth orbit.

It was especially meaningful for us because my daughter has spent the past seven years working on those satellites with the Sierra Nevada Corporation. An unexpected bonus was being able to watch them flawlessly detach from the launch vehicle in a perfectly choreographed sequence to achieve optimal placement in the array. Or as she put it in technical terms, “My springs worked!”

Before falling asleep last night, I checked the Huffington Post. Still riding on a wave of adrenaline, I was certain this would be the top story of the evening. I was wrong. Another police shooting made the headline, followed by Donald Trump’s latest insulting remark. The SpaceX story was halfway down the second page. It made me think about the choices we make as a society.

As media consumers, we make decisions every day about what will occupy the space between our ears. The low-hanging fruit is everywhere. You can’t swing a dead cat these days without hearing about politics, gossip, pseudo-celebrities, and the latest attempt to terrorize us. Turn on the TV news and you’ll be afraid to leave your bedroom. Tune in at 11:00 to learn that your dinner might kill you. Fear, anger, distrust, jealousy, outrage – it’s a never ending cycle of negativity for the mind.

By contrast, last night we had to go out of our way to find coverage of this momentous event. If the SpaceX Corporation had not provided live webcam coverage, we might have missed the whole show. Forget the big screen TV; we hunkered in front of a laptop to watch as SpaceX employees celebrated a paradigm shift in the future of space exploration.

Talk about a good day at work! As each phase of the mission was executed, they screamed, pumped the air with their fists, and exchanged bear hugs. I’m willing to bet there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and the mood was contagious. I’ll admit it right now – I was screaming, too, and came this close to blubbering like a fool. I was totally caught up in the excitement, energy and celebratory spirit of those smart young people.

Think about that for a moment. These were once the nerdy kids who were bullied or shunned in middle school. This was their chance to show the rest of us what can be achieved with dedication, intelligence and collaboration. It was a glimpse of the human potential, and the opportunities that await when we work as a team toward a common goal rather than lining our own pockets at the expense of everyone else.

But my own tears last night were bittersweet. Celebratory, sure, but also pensive. I wondered about the future of these young folks. Would we create an environment where they could continue to grow, learn and explore? Or would we doom them to expend all that talent on basic survival? Climate scientists, mocked because they believe in that science stuff, predict that within a decade, Cape Canaveral may be under water. Seems like a huge disconnect, doesn’t it? Sadly, I once again saw humanity dividing into two camps: those who foresee a positive future and have the skills to achieve it, and those who would hold us back, promoting fear and embracing ignorance.

It’s human nature to distrust the younger generations who come after us, but frankly, my money’s on them. I may be a senior now, but I don’t long to go back to the good old days, which incidentally, weren’t all that great unless you were white, upwardly-mobile, and male. I’m eager to see what these young whippersnappers have to offer. I’m encouraged by their openness to diversity and their sensitivity to the beliefs of others. Their vision of inclusion gives me hope. Maybe my generation will need to pass on before they’ll have their chance to shine, but I hope not. I’d like to be around to pump my fist in the air and cheer them on.

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