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Connections: February 18 2014

February 18, 2014

Ask a Bold Question!

I had the mind-grabbing opportunity last week to listen to Dr. John Grotzinger, chief scientist and head of strategic planning for the NASA Curiosity Rover Mission to Mars. You remember the Curiosity - that amazing rover that is roaming across the Martian landscape, measuring radiation levels, analyzing soil and rock samples, collecting data and transmitting it all back to Earth. He told us that in the first 24 hours after Curiosity landed, its web site had over one billion (yes, that’s billion with a b) hits - evidence that there is great interest in science, and exploration, and knowing/wondering “what is out there.”

And that’s where this mission began, with a bold question: Are we alone? As he described it, bold questions lead to grand challenges. And the search for the answer, or an answer, to the question, “Are we alone?” led to the challenge of exploring Mars, looking for evidence that at one time there may have been life on another planet in our solar system.  It was, and is, a grand challenge. The design of the heat shield. The trigger that jettisons the heat shield. The parachute that drops Curiosity to the surface of Mars. The first “selfie” from Mars, of the rover. The design of the wheels. The solar power that propels Curiosity. The tools and technology to maneuver Curiosity, to dig and drill through earth and rock. And on and on and on. But on the critical day, the system worked. The heat shield, the parachute, the rover, the camera, all worked as designed. The grand challenge had been met, and now Curiosity is providing data to help answer the bold question.

I was left with three powerful images. The first, the grand and intricate nature of our world, which we begin to understand with more clarity because of ventures such as this. The second, the faces of the engineers and scientists and technicians in stations around the world, as they waited for Curiosity to descend and watched as it powered up and started to move - tension, relief, celebration, affirmation - years of work that came to fruition in a matter of moments. And the third, the lingering muse in my mind, the power of the bold question.  

What bold question am I asking? What about you? What about the College? What bold question will lead us to a grand challenge? Personally, professionally, organizationally? Are we teaching our students to ask bold questions? The bold question may be irritating, it may be messy, it’s likely confounding, but, oh, the challenge it may reveal - truly, another world may be on the other side of that bold question.        

To Think About...

“Be patient toward all this is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...”  - Rainer Maria Rilke

Marilyn Moore, EdD
Bryan Health
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