Apollo 11 Astronaut: U.S. Needs More Science Grads - InformationWeek

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7/16/2009
09:24 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Apollo 11 Astronaut: U.S. Needs More Science Grads

Michael Collins, who forty years ago piloted Apollo 11's Columbia command module while fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the surface of the moon, says the U.S. is no longer producing enough science and engineering graduates to meet the demands of research organizations like NASA.

Michael Collins, who forty years ago piloted Apollo 11's Columbia command module while fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the surface of the moon, says the U.S. is no longer producing enough science and engineering graduates to meet the demands of research organizations like NASA."We definitely have a national problem in that kids seem to be going for money rather than what they consider 'nerdy' careers," said Collins, in an interview posted this week on NASA as part of the space agency's celebration of Apollo 11's anniversary.

"Other countries are outstripping us in the quality and quantity of math and science grads, and this can only hurt in the long run," said Collins, who is now 78.

The issue has implications beyond the government sector.

Microsoft's Bill Gates and other tech chiefs in recent years have decried what they say is a shrinking pool of U.S. born workers capable of delivering the expertise they need to continue innovating and competing on a global level.

That in turn has Gates and others calling for an end to numerical caps on the number of foreign tech workers that can be brought into the country through the H-1B visa program.

Collins, however, thinks math and science should be just one part of a balanced educational program. "A liberal arts education, particularly English, is a good entry point no matter what the later specialization," the former astronaut said.

NASA launched the Apollo 11 mission forty years ago today. The agency is holding a number of live and online events for the next week to mark the anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon.

Collins says he and his fellow astronauts were just doing their job. "Heroes abound, and should be revered as such," said Collins. "But don't count astronauts among them. We work very hard; we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do," he said.

Astronauts aren't heroes? A lot of folks respectfully would beg to differ.

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