Mike Mongo’s 100 Year Starship presentation Houston TX, 2012 (text version)

Children: The Future of Space is Presently 8-12 Years Old.

My name is Mike Mongo. I am an astronaut teacher.

How I became an astronaut teacher is an interesting thing. As a child I knew I wanted to be an astronaut. Of all the things in the world to do astronaut was at the top of my list.

As I grew up my list expanded. In addition to astronaut teacher I wanted to be a rockstar. I wanted to work at circus. I wanted to join the military. I wanted to be rich. Play X-sports. Be an author.

Well, as it turns out, all of those things with the exception of astronaut are goals which are relatively easy to attain. Nearly all of them require only tenacity, perseverance and being prepared to take advantage of dumb luck. (Which is really just being prepared for opportunity.)

So by the time I had reached the age of 42, I had in fact accomplished nearly every career goal I had ever set for myself. It was then I realized two things.

The first was that space is closer than ever. The second was that I was still not an astronaut.

Now for most people who have reached adulthood without becoming an astronaut there comes a time when the reality of the situation sets in, that maybe space wasn’t in the cards and that regardless of what I accomplished I should set my sights on goals that were a little more well-grounded.

While I was puzzling through this quandary of time and space, that’s when it dawned on me. If in 2007 at the cusp of space for humanity I’m “too old” to become an astronaut then my next best bet for getting to space is to become an astronaut teacher.

They say that Talent is hitting the target no one else can. And that Genius is hitting the target no one else sees.

In 2007, I wrote a book called HUMANNAIRES! The full title is HUMANNAIRES! Mike Mongo’s Astronaut Instruction Manual for Pre-Teens.

The name Humannaires was inspired by the Legionnaires, the nick name for the French Foreign Legion. Legionnaires it turns out are an esprit de corp. Which means they are “known for their capacity to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others. Esprit de corp is often used to describe “the willpower, obedience and self-discipline of a group tasked with performing duties…more accurately it refers to the level of individual faith in the collective benefit gained by such performance.” It is “the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose” 1

Sounds like astronauts and star travel doesn’t it?

I came up with Humannaires to describe the next generation of space travelers from planet earth. It was what I needed to inspire kids to imagine themselves as a second-generation of space travelers from planet earth. Humannaires captured the excitement of the mission.

That mission was this. To inspire kids to want to go to space by re-inventing what we think it means to go to space.

Up until now, to go to space was to be an astronaut. We all know what that means. It’s the people with the big white helmets who go to the moon and who work on the space station. And then come back down.

That is not going to inspire kids. It’s just not. It’s not new. It’s not terribly glamorous (though of course it does look like fun because of the zero-gravity). But the biggest drawback is that adults already know what astronauts are and that becoming an astronaut is only slightly less likely than becoming president of the United States. They know that because they are us and we expected to be the ones going back and forth to space, but now we are in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and know that’s not likely in the cards. And that’s what getting communicated to kids.

So the role of space traveler had to be re-invented. And that’s what I did.

A humannaire as a space traveler is different than an astronaut because a humannaire goes to space to live there. Astronauts are people who go to space and come back down. Humannaires are people who go to space and stay to live. In space. In settlements or traveling in ships. Permanently.

Now, that’s a tough sell to adults. But not to 8-12 year olds.

And at this point when it comes to interstellar travel, having a willing, receptive audience at the right time and right place who are vastly influential is the entire game.

Now in order to get to the nearest star, I don’t know if we are going to send humans, robots, some sort of star seed, use starships, warp travel or what. That’s left for people who a lot smarter than I am to figure out.

What I do know is that to do star travel in 100 years is going to take 3-4 generations of people. So the best plan of action to evangelize people to such a imaginative endeavor is to take it to the young imaginative minds of the very next generation who are going to be taking the controls. With interstellar travel, we are looking to set in motion a boulder with a presently just-comprehensible mass. Kids are going to be the holders of the boulder.

This is just the sort of thing that inspires kids who are 8-12. “We are going to travel to another star system and you are going to be in charge. You are the future of space.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value of Pre-Teens to an interstellar space program. The fact of the matter is this: 8-12 year olds are the group of people on this planet most focused with the clearest unfettered thinking about how we are going to creatively manifest humankind’s future.

Perhaps more than any single group on the planet, Pre-Teens get space and pre-teens get traveling to another star. But most importantly of all, pre-teens having a mission.

Here are three essential components for initiating wide-spread embrace of interstellar travel:

  • Imaginative and willing audience receptive to the premise of interstellar travel.
  • Being in the right place at the right time. At the beginning of interstellar travel, timing is everything. Space is fast-tracking: Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Rover Curiosity. Space jobs are now becoming real jobs. Space now has wide-open career opportunities.
  • Influence.

Let me talk about that influence. When pre-teens are inspired by something, they live it. When they are inspired about space, kids take space with them wherever they go.
They take space home,
they take space to school,
they take space to the dinner table,
they take space to the sink to brush their teeth,
they take space to recess,
to the playground,
to the library,
the store,
the movies,
even (especially) sleeping. And their parents and guardians see kids taking space everywhere.

The extraordinary value of kids becoming space zealots is that parents (and aunts and uncles and parental guardians and extended family and friends) then also wind-up become space zealots—in support of their kids. When kids around us are inspired, it inspires us.

People who are around kids have given up our lives to kids. It’s like being married. When your kids are happy, you are happy. This applies in homes, in schools, in communities.

Most people—as parents, guardians, teachers, leaders—love whatever our kids love. What makes our kids happy is what makes us happy. When our kids loves space, we love space. If you follow this line of thinking, suddenly the value of kids to the advancement of an interstellar space program becomes obvious. Space-loving kids equals space loving adults. Interstellar space program-zealous kids equals interstellar space program-zealous sadults. Yes, it’s really that simple.

Whatmore, that affect is increasing. The reason is three-fold and all of them relevant to the notability of children as proponents for interstellar space programs. First, because Western families are having fewer children, kids’ influence on family decisions is increasing. Second, working couples can afford to have their children make decisions, while in single-parent households children are encouraged to be decision-makers. Lastly, and with the most bearing on the immediate future of promoting space exploration to kids, exposure to media is now constant and ever increasing in its permeation; children are so much better informed about subject matters that parents are relying on kids to make value-calls.

In a 2008 Kids, Inc. branding survey of 2000 age 6-14 year olds (and simultaneous survey of 600 mothers of 6-14 year olds) key findings were as follows:

• Kids’ desire to “give” rivals their desire to “get” – the altruistic impulse of children is strong;
• There is a huge unmet need for service opportunities for kids;
• Nearly 9 out of 10 kids believe that it is extremely, very or somewhat important “to help others or give back”;
• Brands that affiliate with a Cause and tap into kids’ desire to give will generate stronger relationships with kids (as well as strong trust relationships with parents);
• NGOs and Causes can tap marketing departments to both funding and further outreach. 2

In other words, not only do kids embrace cause faster and even more naturally than adults but Causes can use brands to further their outreach to kids which in turn influences parents.

By combining the influence of people who are kids on the world around them with the fact that generally speaking kids are looking for a cause, something to help humankind, again, interstellar travel suddenly becomes a Very Good Idea. Co-opt marketing departments of popular brands and suddenly you have the a lot more hands on the boulder we are working get in motion.

And if you think back to the world’s first space-age—roughly 1955 to 1975—just about every child and student in the world dreamed of space. Space toys, space books, space games, space rides.

Googling the phrase, “was crazy about space”, there are hundreds of entries that begin with specifically that phrase. One such entry states,

Like many young boys, I was crazy about space exploration and space travel. We were children of the Space Age, and dreamed about becoming astronauts, of living on a moonbase, of walking on Mars, of visiting the rings of Saturn. Every rocket launch seemed right out of science fiction. Astronauts, not pop singers, were the real American Idols.

Indeed, I was thrilled to have dinner with John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and a childhood hero..

My parents were just as space-crazy as I was. A few days before the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, my father came home with a brand-new television set. He didn’t trust our cranky old TV for such an important occasion. 3

That came from Alan Zeichick, software developer, technology analyst, and Co-Founder of Software Development Times. It is one story of perhaps hundreds of thousands, people whose life and career direction all have a single common thread: being inspired by space and space exploration as kids.

There is no breakthrough discovery or invention that is more validating of humankind’s pursuit of space exploration than the zeal for space exploration of children. What patriots are to the legitimacy of nations, children are to space exploration. Children are the patriots of space exploration.

What happens when kids are encouraged to consider themselves-in-space-as-a-career choice is either they do not consider it, they do consider it but don’t move in that direction, or they do consider it and they do move in that direction. That’s us. Now we want it to be them with interstellar travel. But they have to be presented with the opportunity as a possibility.

What we put into the hands, hearts and minds of our kids today influences our future tomorrow.

Our goal must be to engender kids having a Transformative moment about space.

A Transformative moment is the moment of looking through an actual telescope and seeing with your own eyes Saturn’s rings. It is being present at something as singularly momentous as the launching of the Space Shuttle. It is being in the audience of 100 Year Starship—as a kid.

Along with being the person who experiences transformation, the most incredible aspect of a child experiencing an actual Transformative moment is that we as adults have the amazing power to foster and enabling such moments. The greater honor I know of is to be in the presence of another human being, particularly a young one, as the awesomeness of the universe and the direction they will take in life unfolds before their eyes.

While scientists, engineers, authors, physicists, space professionals often take the time to encourage students and young people, how many actually dedicate themselves to encouraging kids the way we dedicate ourselves to our careers and our goals?

As I said there are 3 reasons 8-12 year olds are the future of space. The first was they are an imaginative and willing audience receptive to the idea of interstellar travel. The second one was that 8-12 year olds are influential.

The last one is timing. Pre-teens today are in the right place at the right time. Space is fast-tracking.

Space has moved from attainable to a few to attainable to a few more. It is soon going to be attainable to many more. In other words, some of us are going to live and work in space. And to a person who is 8-12 years old, those are the magic words because they come from us as “you can” and they transform in the minds of kids into “I will”.

And in 2012 and from here on out, every 8-12 year old in the land should be gifted with the magic bean of an idea that they can live and work in space so that it may take root in their minds and transform in them into the beanstalk that we can all use to climb from earth out to space and beyond. Speaking as a former 12-year old, it worked for us. And here in the future, with the infrastructure we the first generation of space careerists have built, it will work even better for them.

1 Morale (esprit de corp), Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morale, Sept 1, 2012
2 Kidformation (winter 2008) “Kids as a Force for Positive Social Change” Just Kids, Inc/Kidformation 1 (1): 1.
3 Zeichick, Alan, 2008, Happy 50th Birthday, NASA!, ZTrek: The Alan Zeichick Weblog,  http://ztrek.blogspot.com/2008/07/happy-50th-birthday-nasa.html (July 29, 2008).

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