Former NASA astronaut Richard Hieb is visiting Canberra for National Science Week. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Former NASA astronaut Richard Hieb, one of the faces of ACT Science Week, says science, technology, engineering and maths education is so important, it is a national security issue.

Hieb, who is in town to promote the event, said science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education was important for competing with other countries who pour resources into the area.

“It is absolutely a competition, and today’s competition is technical, it involves engineering, and computers are in everything that we do,” Hieb said on Wednesday.

“From a national security point of view you’re protecting your secrets, your networks, your military. You have to be economically competitive, and you are not going to be economically competitive if you are not competing in a STEM way with the rest of the world.”

Hieb, who is from a blue collar family in North Dakota, wears an extra sewn-on patch inside his old NASA suit – a safe–driving patch from his father’s 11 years as a truck driver for an American oil company.

He said where he grew up was “as remote as you can get” in the US and his family did not have a television, nor money for university.

But the Apollo launch left him with a dream, and he worked hard to qualify for a company subsidy for college and won a scholarship for graduate school, studying aeronautical engineering. By chance, he gained a summer job at NASA.

However, Hieb said he did not have the answer for how to inspire more students to take up careers in science and technology.
A recent CSIRO study of community attitudes to science found nearly all surveyed said they had a negative experience in school-level science classes. It found “attitudes to science at school are a major predictor of attitudes to science later in life”.

The paper also found 40 per cent of the population was disengaged from science, with younger people becoming increasingly disengaged.
“I think it’s important to have an appreciation of science and technology because there is literally nothing that we do where science does not affect our life,” Hieb said.

“How can you be an effective voter, how can you decide, if you dont understand some of the basics?” Hieb said.

Hieb became a NASA astronaut in July 1986 and has logged 750 hours in space, including 17 hours of walking.

He now is vice-president of the exploration and mission support division for aerospace and defence contractor Lockheed Martin, which manages south polar operations for the US National Science Foundation.

ACT Science Week will run from August 16-24 and will include appearances from neurosurgeon Charlie Teo and Space Oddity astronaut Chris Hadfield as well as experiments and children’s workshops.

Source: Cabnerra Times


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