Space Still Captivates the Imagination: Former NASA Chief Scientist Albion Bowers

Joshua Philipp

The current competitive climate within the domain of space exploration shows that space still captivates people’s imaginations, according to former NASA chief scientist Albion Bowers.

“It captivates the imagination. Just to think about what’s out there, and why is it there, and why are we here, and how did we get to be here—all those sorts of questions are all rolled up in this ‘why-space’ question,” Bowers, an aerospace engineer and former Chief scientist at NASA, told Joshua Philipp, host of The Epoch Times’ “Crossroads” program.

Space has become a busy domain. Recently, China has been talking about mining the moon and the threat of anti-satellite weapons has been a topic of discussion over the past year. Meanwhile, SpaceX is sending commercial flights to space.

Bowers said that near the end of his career with NASA, when he attended a launch at Kennedy Space Center, it still gave him chills.

“It was so amazing to watch this huge device lift off,” he said, mentioning his colleague’s amazement “that human ingenuity can create something and we can see it and it’s already in space. And and we just both had that moment where we were just in awe of what had just been done right in front of us.”

Having worked for a government agency for 37 years, Bowers said he knows it costs a lot of taxpayers’ money to be able to do all the frontier research, and that there are things that could be done better.

“But in many ways, there still needs to be a place ... an organization that makes mistakes for the first time and does things that, well, ‘In hindsight, that wasn’t such a great idea,’ and to try out new things, because every once in a while you find something.” Bowers said.

Bowers mentioned that technologies we now have, like cell phones, drive by wire, autonomous cars, and autopilot of aircraft, were initially developed for the moon landing and other space missions.

New Discoveries

Though nowadays, general information of anything including space is very easy to access, Bowers says space is still amazing because there are “new discoveries all the time.”

When the Cassini probe was observing Saturn, it found broad flat areas on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The areas turned out to be liquid methane, and groups of people are working to launch a mission to survey the methane oceans in 2034.

Bowers said that NASA’s latest rover mission on Mars is currently capturing people’s imagination, but getting people on Mars is far more complicated and difficult than getting them on the moon.

“The moon was really, really hard,” he said, given the timeframe they had to do it, but “Mars is a different sort of a problem. It’s much much harder. And going there, you’re truly cutting your ties to Earth. If someone had a burst appendix or something on a trip to the moon, if that had happened, there are things you could have done in order to get that person back to the earth and for them to survive. Going to Mars is a different story.”

As to what lies beyond retirement, Bowers said students still call him up all the time.

“It’s the young people—firing the imaginations of young people doing these things,“ he said. ”Because there are other places for them to go, other things for them to do. And those goals are still out there for these young people. And this is where I’m going to enjoy my retirement immensely, watching what these young people do.”