Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik heralded geologic revolutions

The launch of Sputnik 50 years ago today is being rightly celebrated as the start of the space race and a shot across the bow of America's scientific supremacy. It also helped trigger the start of two geologic revolutions - plate tectonics and planetary geology. It was the synoptic views of Earth that galvanized a new generation to think seriously about the previously outrageous concept and start looking at geology on a global scale. And suddenly we had a dozen other worlds to compare to the Earth to understand just how unique the geology of this world is.

The excitement of seeing pictures from new worlds has been for me comparable to historical terrestrial explorers who found new lands and peoples.

Without Sputnik, there may not have been the U.S. investment in all areas of science in order to compete with the Soviets. There is a wistful hope among many scientists today for another Sputnik moment to galvanize the public and political leaders once again and recognize the importance of science to our lives, our well-being, and our national security. [right: geologist Harrison Schmitt on the moon]

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