I’ve written a few columns about a recurring bond between the Internet and space exploration, as several Internet billionaires look to use their resources to explore the cosmos.
And while there haven’t been any new rockets launched or asteroids mined since those last columns I wrote on the subject, the Internet did just return one of the main reasons I have been so interested in space travel, and science in general.
Most people these days might know Bill Nye as the bow-tied science advocate who gets ridiculed on cable news networks for acknowledging scientific evidence for climate change.
But Nye was a fundamental part of my elementary education. His show, simply “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” was, for me, the main attraction of a small stable of public television shows that my teachers in the 1990s would put on, either as a reward or to take up some time. I was never sure.
Bill used simple and approachable explanations with goofy demonstrations and sound effects and skits. Each episode’s parody music video, like “Achey Breaky Heart” parody “AC/DC Charge” by Billy Ray Cyrcuits, were cheesy but perfect for the Weird Al Yankovic set that watched.
That show inspired millions of American children to at least be interested in, if not inspired by, the wide world of science. I wish it would have inspired more.
After the show ended in 1998, Nye remained a vocal science advocate.
Recently, I had been hearing that he would have a new show on with the YouTube channel, Nerdist, which was created by increasingly influential old-to-new media bridge figure Chris Hardwick.
I was excited about the Internet show. Although the style of the old show might be a little too juvenile for me these days, with tiny kids in lab coats and lots of “boing” sounds, I was excited to see how an Internet TV show could utilize more audience interaction.
Thursday’s broadcast featured the finalists in an open call for experiments from students around the world to suggest to the space station crew.
Teachers and scientists and NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations, William H. Gerstenmaier, judged the submissions and chose two experiments.
In the 14-16 age range, Troy, Mich., high school students Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma’s experiment about how bacteria grow in space was chosen.
Eighteen-year-old Amr Mohamed, from Alexandria, Egypt, won the 17-18 year old category with a suggestion about how jumping spiders could adapt their hunting techniques in zero gravity.
While watching the live stream, there was a box to the side that published posts from Facebook and Twitter that viewers were adding while watching. Many of the posts, probably in the hundreds, were in Arabic, congratulating Amr on being chosen.
As I read the digital outpouring of international support, I could also hear CNN’s coverage of the protests surrounding our Egyptian embassy, probably not that far from Amr’s school, and I was, as usual, conflicted yet optimistic.
On the one hand, I was frustrated by television’s escalating alarmist coverage of the protests that (deliberately?) failed to mention any of the pro-U.S. counter-protests or the Libyans who died defending the Americans who died and carrying them to the hospital. It seems like the region is hopelessly divided, violent and irrational.
But then I see this kid, Amr Mohamed. And I see the hundreds of people, who appear to also be at least Arabic if not Egyption, supporting him and his pursuit of scientific truth, encouraging his curiosity.
Those people are among the millions of Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenese and Sudanese who are not allowing a stupid YouTube video to drive them insane. They are living their lives. And many of them respect and appreciate the American presence in their country and our assistance in their fights against the brutal totalitarian regimes that stood just two years ago.
TV news doesn’t talk as much to those people. The ratings probably wouldn’t be as good.
But, with the Internet, I see the people — the sympathy, the commonality, the hope — behind the violence. I see youths like Amr who will hopefully be able to help build a new Egypt that, even if not perfect, will at least realize the transitive properties of violence and try to move beyond.
At the very least, I’ll get to watch some new episodes of one of my favorite shows as a kid. So that’s cool.
(Zach White is a Havre Daily News reporter.)