American kids today dream of being vloggers, not astronauts

The dream of space travel has been usurped by superficiality.

American kids today dream of being vloggers, not astronauts
  • Recent survey of 3,000 kids showed that more kids aspire to be a YouTube star than an astronaut.
  • Children in the U.S. and U.K. were three times more likely to want to become vloggers than kids in China.
  • The survey also indicated that kids in America were less knowledgeable about space travel than their global counterparts.

Space travel was once the communal dream and subsequent reality of 1960s. Fifty years ago, the Saturn V blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center and landed the first men on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface, while Michael Collins stayed in Lunar orbit.

This exalted event stands as one of our most triumphant accomplishments. The many scientists, engineers, astronauts and creative people that it would go on to inspire is countless.

We owe an innumerable cultural debt to this technological era. Which is why on the eve of Apollo 11's 50th anniversary, LEGO and The Harris Poll set out to survey children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom on their attitude and knowledge concerning space.

A total of 3,000 children were surveyed. While the results revealed that there was some lingering excitement for space, there were some disconcerting trends as well. Such as the fact that American kids would rather aspire to inanity on YouTube as a "vlogger" than to the great beyond as an astronaut in space.

Results of the survey

The Harris Poll / LEGO

According to the study, children were three times as likely to aspire towards a YouTube career than an astronaut. That is, creating videos on the internet in order to become famous. Kids in the study were between the ages of 8 and 12. On average only 11 percent said they wanted to be an astronaut.

The only place this trend was reversed was in China. A majority of children in China, at 56 percent, would rather be an astronaut over other professions. Their other answers to space questions showed that Chinese children were also more interested in the prospect of not only going to space, but creating settlements there as well.

Three out of four children, in general, believed that humans would eventually live in space or on another planet. About 96 percent of Chinese children prescribed to this answer, compared to 68 percent in the United States and 63 percent in the U.K.

On the subject of whether they'd like to go to space, 95 percent of Chinese children said yes, compared to 70 percent from the U.S. and 63 percent from the U.K.

The survey didn't delve into why children in the West were less interested in space than their Chinese counterparts. We can only begin to speculate. Perhaps it's the fact that we've been in a rut since the 1970s and haven't set foot on another celestial body since then. It could be a lapse in good space PR combined with apathy spurred from our continual failings to rile up enough support for another grand initiative.

China currently places a greater emphasis on long-term goals, as well as a higher value on the tangible applications of space exploration. They're both educated and united under the primal banner of human curiosity and a nationalistic organizational efficiency.

It also comes down to just plain ignorance. Western kids are barraged at a young age with frivolous "internet stars," whose only claim to fame is commercialized parroting. This is a great waste of intellectual capital as children seek to emulate these people. The survey also found that kids truly don't understand the impact and importance that space travel has imparted to their daily lives.

For instance, only 18 percent of Western children knew they used something that was invented because of space travel, compared to 43 percent in China.

Like many things in life, knowledge and inspiration can help reverse these concerning trends.

Inspiring kids for space exploration 

Bettina Inclán, NASA associate administrator for communications, is optimistic about what to do next to inspire future generations of America:

"For nearly 20 years, NASA and LEGO Group have collaborated on projects to inspire the next generation to imagine and build their future in space. Our latest efforts celebrate the incredible feats we achieved during Apollo 50 years ago, and now with our accelerated plans to go forward to the moon, we will continue to inspire children to dream about what's possible and to grow up to pursue STEM careers."

There is a lot to be inspired about. The future of humanity lies beyond the atmosphere. If we're going to travel there and stay there, we'll need our best and brightest to invent some incredible new technology.

If we're going to make space exploration possible, we first have to pass down our dreams to the future custodians of the stars.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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