Can't do or Won't do?

I was at the lovely new Morrison Planetarium the other day. It’s a new digital planetarium based on a set of digital projectors driven by a computer instead of a mechanical projector like the days of old. This means that the planetarium is free to be centered at any point in the sky instead of being confined to only representing the view from Earth like the traditional projectors.

I haven’t seen a good planetarium show in, literally, ages. This dawned on me a few months ago, so I’d been hunting for excuses to visit one. So we all saw Journey to the Stars narrated by Whoopi Goldberg with a few little conversational bits by the live presenter.

Now, as a kid, I made many memorable trips to see the Cincinnati Natural History Museum’s old planetarium… which I’m not sure is actually still operational… and that excited my child mind about the possibilities of space travel and stuck with me throughout history.

These days, I read enough of the non-professional astronomy publications to keep a vague feeling of what’s going on. So I was able to spot the present astronomical consensus about dark matter, remember a few articles that suggested alternative explanations and theories about things, and spotted that Pluto has been removed as a planet.

And, in terms of seeing the interaction of the magnetic fields or the bubbling and churning that goes on within a star, it was excellently visual. Some of the narration was over the top, but likely in a way that I’d appreciate better were I to be ten.

One thing stuck in my head. There were a lot of “Can’t”s and “Beyond our technology”s. Which bugged me. Because I’ve read some of the research on the engineering side of space travel, and I wouldn’t regard it as being completely impossible. This is where astronomers get a brilliant chance to fill the minds of tomorrow’s youth with possibilities, and it looks like they’ve just about given up on it. Why not say “because people aren’t comfortable with the a spaceship with a thousand nuclear warheads in its cargo bay” or “because NASA gets less than one percent of the federal budget” and tell things unoffensively but truthfully. Anything is better than another generation of kids who will grow up to ask why we are spending so much money on space exploration when we’ve got so many problems on Earth to fix first.