The Language of Data: The Voice of a New Era of Space-Based Research

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Click to learn more about author Carie Lemack.

The era of Big Data may as well be another name for a new Space Age: A chance for students and teachers to master the language not only of the final frontier, but the frontiers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Students must master the frontiers of the jobs of tomorrow – the boundaries of the jobs of today – so we have a workforce conversant in these issues and leaders fluent in these subjects. They must reach the frontiers of gathering and interpreting data, so we can make practical use of space-based research. They must expand the frontiers of experimentation, with access to many and discoveries accessible to many more, thanks to a partnership with the International Space Station.

This spirit of excitement, with over 350 experiments to our credit, is a platform to introduce some of the nation’s youngest thinkers – some of America’s most creative thinkers, too – to the information that will enable them to be more literate about STEM in general and data in particular.

To achieve and sustain that degree of enthusiasm requires a dynamic curriculum, one that has the resources necessary for teachers to inspire a new generation of students to aim for the heavens and advance our work here on earth.

To speak of these goals is one thing.

To do them is something else altogether, because we must have buy-in from our fellow dreamers – and doers – who can watch a rocket carry their experiments into space, who can witness its trajectory and record this moment of triumph, who can connect this visible sign of progress with the more abstract concept of data.

The data they will decode is indeed the language of the universe: The ones and zeroes whose apparent randomness is anything but, whose disorder has an order all its own, whose analysis depends not on the skills of the few – not on the gifts of a minority of chemists and physicists – but on the abilities of students nationwide.

To talk this language, one must immerse him- or herself in the vocabulary of science and mathematics.

To do that rises or falls on engagement –– it succeeds or fails on giving teachers the tools they need, and providing students and parents with a lesson plan they can follow, so Big Data does not become a euphemism for Big Decline.

We must avoid that defeatist scenario.

We must seize this invitation to conduct space-based research, because the barriers to entry are so (relatively) low and the rewards are so (unprecedentedly) high that it would be foolish to squander this opportunity; it would be a crime of omission to stand on the sidelines – to be spectators rather than participants – while other countries do what we choose to not even pursue; it would be an attack against posterity to leave our children (and their children’s children) without the competitive edge they deserve and the infrastructure they need to prosper.

The numbers do not lie because the data is irrefutable.

To read those numbers, so we can make good use of that data, is inseparable from supporting space-based research.

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