pop goes the world: science, not superstition

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today9 August 2012, Thursday

Science, Not Superstition

Early in the morning of August 6, the global scientific community celebrated the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s spectacular achievement of landing their Mars Science Laboratory in the Gale Crater on Mars.

Nicknamed “Curiosity,” the $2.6 billion MSL treads in the tire prints of other Martian NASA rovers, the last launched being Spirit and Opportunity in 2004. Twice as long, five times as heavy, and loaded with ten times the number of science instruments, Curiosity is a roving science robot that will send back data that will pave the way for future human exploration.

Technicians work on Curiosity in a “clean room” at NASA. Image here.

“Ad astra per aspera” – “to the stars through hardships” – indeed, but the hard work of NASA and mission control handler Jet Propulsion Laboratory will pay off through the invaluable knowledge that will be acquired about our neighboring planet.

Curiosity carries 17 cameras. Image here.

There are at least two Filipino-Americans working in space flight and exploration in the US  – Gregory Galgana Villar III and Lloyd Manglapus.

Manglapus studied at the University of Santo Tomas and the University of Southern California, and has been a senior software engineer with JPL for the past eight years.

Villar is one of the youngest engineers on the Curiosity mission. According to a Huffington Post article by Anna Almendrala, he “attended…St. Louis University Laboratory High School in Baguio City, where his parents are from [and] has been working for NASA since he was a junior at [California State Polytechnic University in] Pomona. After he graduated, his internships turned into a full-time engineering job.”

The young engineer was quoted as saying, “…these types of missions are essential to our progress as humans. And I hope the youth are inspired.”

Inspiration is not a problem; achievements like these that “dare mighty things” (the Twitter hashtag made popular by scientists on the Curiosity mission) set fire to the imaginations of young people that they too can explore the final frontier.

For Filipinos to do so, we need to support education in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We have more than enough nurses who can’t find jobs – let’s develop engineers and scientists.

Mohawked NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi served as flight director of the Curiosity mission and became an Internet sensation. Image here.

Meanwhile, what where we doing at around that same time Curiosity landed on the Red Planet?

In the Philippines, fierce debates swirled in Congress when the date for voting on the ending of debates on the Reproductive Health bill was moved up to the 6th from the 7th.

Fresh from the anti-RH bill rally led by the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines the day before, anti-RH bill lawmakers urged their colleagues to resist terminating the plenary discussions on the controversial bill, with one of them questioning the propriety of the change of date because it was an unlucky number.

That’s the Philippines for you. Is it more fun yet?

Others have put forth arguments for and against the RH bill which I shall not go into here for lack of space and to avoid redundancy. What I present is my own conviction that the country needs not only the RH bill, but also a divorce bill and secularism in government.

We need to truly and seriously implement the laws about the separation of church and state. Not everyone in the Philippines is Catholic. Islamic, Protestant, and Iglesia ni Cristo church leaders have opined that their faiths have no problems with accepting the RH Bill.

We are behind many of the developed countries not only in economic and scientific aspects but also in societal attitudes. Where logic, reason, science, and the rule of just and fair laws should prevail, we are instead swayed by some irate priests clinging to the last vestiges of their medieval power, and guided by lucky numbers and supernatural forebodings – a contradiction in beliefs that boggles the rational mind.

“Where religion is, there is peace,” is a sometime truism; more often than not, where there is religion, there is strife, especially when churches and politicians prey on the masses’ religious fears to advance their own agenda.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said, “Contraception is corruption.” Excuse me. Corruption is corruption. That means things like vote-buying, padding votes, extortion, bribery, and misuse of government funds.

Contraception is a personal choice that has to do with whether an individual wishes to have a child or not. It hinges on whether that person has the resources to properly support a child in comparative comfort and provide him or her basic needs including a life free from abuse and poverty, for I believe these are inalienable rights of humans.

Let us support hard science education to develop engineers like Gregory Villar and Lloyd Manglapus. Let us pass laws like the RH bill that will safeguard the welfare of women and children. Let us release our fear of the Church and irrational superstitions and dare mighty things for the Philippines.

Let us reach for the stars.  *** 

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