We Need Engineering Heroes

While there has been much concern about innovation in the United States, engineering is often undervalued. So kids are more likely to dream of being sports stars and rock musicians than engineers. But without exciting role models, students are unlikely to pursue the field. To inspire the next generation of inventors, we need heroes who are engineers.

Astronaut Mark Watney — played by Matt Damon in director Ridley Scott’s epic 3-D film, The Martian, released October 2 — is a great example. Marooned on the lethal Red Planet, this plucky astronaut with engineering skills figures out how to make water, grow food, and restore communication with NASA to survive. So far, audiences love him.

In fact, The Boston Globe called the film a “great recruitment tool for the STEM fields” because it “makes knowing stuff seem attractive, cool, even sexy.”

Coinciding with all the excitement about the film, recent findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter offer the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows on Mars today.

Also, right now, NASA is testing how long-term isolation and confinement may affect six astronauts living inside a 1,000-square-foot dome on a Hawaiian volcano in conditions as harshly Martian as possible.

At the same time, aboard the International Space Station astronaut Scott Kelly is participating in a study with his astronaut twin brother Mark of differences between living in space and on Earth.

Isn’t it time for a new Sputnik moment?

The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I October 4, 1957, set off the space race, woke us up to the importance of science and technology, and led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Sputnik spurred American engineers and scientists to land Neil Armstrong on the moon July 20, 1969.

And, when NASA rovers, Spirit —> Read More