Monday, 20 July 2009
the power of dreams
When I was nine years old, I was at school at Loreto Convent in Hillcrest, Pretoria. Next door was the boy's school... Christian Brothers College. Some of the older girls managed a few snatched words through the fence, but for those of us in Std 2, it was a place to be avoided. Except, that is, for one glorious day in July or August 1969 when we headed off, single file, to the CBC hall to see the Apollo moon landing.
I can't remember whether we saw the landing on the actual day, but I do remember crowding round the tiny television - the first I had ever seen - and watching the grainy pictures of the moon landing. And, strangely, I remember the dusty smell of the hall, and the sunlight coming through the cracks in the black curtains, high up on the walls. And the wooden floors, scuffed by decades of boy feet.
It was a pivotal point in my life. I remember a few years before being taken outside by my father to see a satellite... one of the sputniks ... passing through the night sky, and being totally in awe that this tiny dot in the sky could contain a man.
And now, there were real, actual people who had landed on the moon.
For my nine year old self, it gave me the absolute assurance that anything was possible. The moon landing meant that dreams could come true, and there was nothing that people could not achieve.
I did not realise how privileged I was. In a country which had no television, very few (mostly white) people had the chance to share my epiphany.
For years I thought I would go to the moon too, but never did anything career-wise to achieve that dream. But in spite of that, the possibility remains. It may, somehow, still happen.
And for years, I have resisted any suggestions (especially by my son Simon who is usually right about such things) that it was all a big con and never actually happened. I still refuse to read any of the "proofs" or stories of flags waving on a wind free world.
This past week I have been reporting, appropriately, on IGARSS 09 the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium which was held on the African continent for the first time. The focus was inward... these satellites are looking at the earth rather than outward to the stars.
But once again I was awed by the possibilities, and my inner nine year old was wandering around saying "oh wow!" as I learned about landmine detection, the discovery of new currents, how clouds could be analysed to predict floods and how disease tracking could save lives. And those were just the parts I could understand!
Importantly, IGARSS 09 was also about giving 300 high school children a chance to experience remote sensing for themselves.
Johannesburg University Professor Harold Annegarn, chair of the conference (and whose badge bore the monicker "Big Cheese") saw the outreach programme as one of the highlights of a conference which attracted close to 1300 delegates from all over the world, many with a string of letters after their names.
“These were children who are already achieving in maths and science and who have now seen that people that they can relate to are really achieving great things in terms of world class science. Initiatives like these are so important. They bring hope... the children start believing that their dreams can become reality, and that they are not excluded from anything,” he said.
The power of dreams. It can take you anywhere.