Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides sees the future of space in the eyes of students. Not as the "coveted 18-24 demographic", but as leaders of the new space industry. To her, space-interested science and engineering students in high school and college right now are "one in a million," and she wants them to train to be the next Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, Burt Rutan, or Elon Musk.
She should know. As an astrobiologist, Virgin Galactic advisor, Wired blogger, and Zero G flight director, she’s seen her share of the Right Stuff. She’s followed James Cameron to the bottom of the ocean and led 7,000 people to a party at NASA. Space is personal for her, too: she and her husband, National Space Society director George T. Whitesides, will honeymoon on one of the first Virgin Galactic suborbital flights. Recently she agreed to answer a few Geekdad questions. Read the full interview after the jump.
Geekdad: What is the Space Generation? Who are they?
Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides:
Space Generation is a network of young space professionals around the planet. They are passionate about building community, training and developing themselves, sharing their passion for space with the public and using space to make a difference here on our favorite planet: Earth.
GD: What’s the most valuable lesson young space enthusiasts can learn?
It’s up to us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Anything is possible. My definition of a conservative is someone who says we can’t travel faster then the speed of light, a liberal is someone who says that we can, we just haven’t figured out how yet.
GD: You’ve said that when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, the job hadn’t been invented yet. What would you tell your younger self your job is now? Would she be impressed?
LHW: Well, I don’t think I am done yet, there will be many more "not yet invented" jobs in my future. 🙂
But yes, astrobiologist, blogger, space evangelist and Zero G Flight
Director were not really job options in the 80′s. Ultimately I want my job title to be Jedi. That was invented in the 70′s but no one has really been hiring. I am pretty sure I’ll get there though.
GD: Is NASA still cool enough to attract today’s kids, or do they need to start Martian Idol in order to keep up?
Well, it hasn’t been. There is something missing that has the kids not as inspired as I would like. I think it is just a lack of exposure and
NASA’s unwillingness to be as cool as Hollywood. They and scientists think it’s beneath them. They forget that peacocks have feathers to ensure that they make little peacocks. Scientists and NASA need to do the same. It’s just what is required for reproductive success…that’s basic biology.
GD: What does the Space Generation need most right now? Imagination, leadership, hard work? Buckets of money?
Buckets of money would go a long way, as would leaders. I figure we will need on the order of 5,000 to lead this industry and be the project managers that will make this industry be the industry of our dreams. We need people willing to work with others, have the humility to learn from their mistakes, have the audacity to make them, and the strength to take responsibility for them all without ever giving up.
But most of all what we need is to be inspiring. If we are not inspiring the public with what we do in space, we need to take another look at how we are doing it. I am not interested in going to Mars if no one cares. It’s like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. We need to have our stories and our heroes be so compelling that people want to be like us when they grow up. That they are inspired by who we are and what we do. That our work inspires a generation to learn and challenge themselves and to fight for what is possible.
GD: What’s the best thing I can do for my kids?
LHW: Take them to see a launch before they are 9.
GD: Anousheh Ansari has said she’s given up on adults, because only children have minds open enough to really explore space. Is there any hope for us oldsters, or should we be content to support the Space
LHW: I have learned that old people are just kids with more disappointments, frustrations and let downs built up. Our job is to reconnect the older generation with the spark and passion in them that got them here in the first place and don’t let them use excuses like "I am too old" or "if you have seen as much as I have you would be this way too." Let them dream and play along side you, thank them for all the work they have contributed to space over the many years and tell them that you are not going to let them be anything but great around you.