A couple of weeks ago a friend posted an interesting video on Facebook:
It’s narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, speaking about how the US feared the rise of the USSR and created NASA to engage in the Space Race. NASA was able to land on the Moon within 10 years, but as the Soviets fell behind, NASA began to lose its glory. Tyson believes that the US is losing its status on the world stage, and without NASA pushing the boundaries of space we could lose a generation of inspired scientists and engineers. Then it struck me. At 4:03 a video clip of Carl Sagan appears talking to school children. It was at this moment that I realized that my life had been touched by Carl Sagan in a profound way.
Where’s the connection?
In Grade 3 I discovered a children’s science book series about the Solar System in the library at St. Anne’s in Brampton. If I were to walk in the same library I could tell you which shelf and section you could find the books. There was a book on each planet, the Sun, the moons of Mars, the asteroid belt, and comets. I read each book, wrote what I learnt in my journal, but the book on Venus is the one that fascinated me the most.
I don’t remember many details about what I read, but there is one idea that has managed to withstand almost 20 years of “memory erosion”. Terraforming of Venus. Venus is a planet cloaked in a thick blanket of CO2. A lethal sauna. Life as we know it is impossible on Venus, but the book proposed that we could have artificial satellites orbit Venus containing engineered microbes. These microbes would convert CO2 to O2 in Venus’ atmosphere, reduce the greenhouse effect, and create organic acids on Venus. The idea originated from Carl Sagan in 1961, who later admitted the idea was flawed. By today’s standards his idea to transform Venus’ atmosphere is science fiction, but since I read this book as a child it was and still is science to me.
I haven’t quite become the astronaut or aerospace engineer I wanted to be as a child. Instead life has somehow pushed and pulled me to pursue chemical engineering, and more recently metabolic engineering with my Masters program. I now find myself in a field that is looking to unravel 4 billion years worth of R&D done by Mother Nature, which one day I hope we can use to terraform Venus or Mars. I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if it weren’t for those science books in my elementary school.