A note to “all the crew of spaceship Earth”

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I’ve been thinking all wrong about the role of tomorrow’s aerospace engineers in diversifying their profession and ensuring that our home planet becomes a healthier, cleaner place. That’s the lesson I drew from a short address delivered by a student at Aviation Week Network’s annual Laureate Awards in Virginia last month.

This was the line that jolted me: “For all our pursuits to truly make a difference for the most urgent crises of our generation, of climate and race, I’d like to call on all leaders in this room to not only applaud the initiatives led by these change makers” — meaning the honorees — “but also to lean into the discomfort of what change truly entails,” said Rikhi Roy, a graduate student at Georgia Tech and one of AvWeek’s “20 Twenties” honorees.

The words “lean into” struck me hard. Baby boomers — and I include myself in this — have been known to throw up our hands at our generation’s inability to shift society to clean energy and full equity. Those are now up to the next generation, we say. I’ve said as much to my college-age daughters. It took Roy’s words for me to understand why my declaration did not sit well.

The problem with tossing up our hands is that baby boomers and Gen Xers do the hiring, set the research agendas, craft the integrated communications strategies and decide where the money goes. As brilliant as the “twenties” are, they can’t change the world without us, and we can’t finish our careers feeling good without them. We need each other. Forgetting that was the mistake of the 1960s, when the young weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30 and the elders looked down with suspicion. As Roy put it, change will require “all the crew of spaceship Earth.”

So, I’ve taken down my hands. This magazine will continue digging into the issues related to the positive future that the next generation seeks to create in collaboration with all generations.

Of course, the weighty topics of sustainability and equity in the workforce will not be the only subjects we will cover. This issue of the magazine is a case in point. The world won’t be saved by rescuing space travelers, capturing the first light of the universe or flying around the moon crewless, but I suspect you might find some articles useful in surprising ways. When someone tells you that this or that can’t be done because of the cost, you will know that, taken together, the United States spent $47.7 billion on the James Webb Space Telescope, Space Launch System rocket, Orion capsule and ground equipment, an amount roughly equivalent to two years of NASA’s entire budget.

Overall, a clean planet linked by affordable air and space transportation is a strong aspiration for all of us to work back from.

Related Topics

Climate Change

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

A note to “all the crew of spaceship Earth”