Astrobiological Impressions and Gratitude

One of the things that our 11-year old son likes to do when we have guests over is to survey them to see who does and who does not believe that life exists on other planets. This has been a fascination of his for many months, if not years, and to his credit I think he has persuaded a few to change their answers.

A week and a half ago he and I were talking about the possibility of alien life and I wished that he could ask his questions of someone who really knew what he was talking about.

At the NASA Grail Tweetup I attended a few weeks ago (which I have yet to report on) I met Dr. Jim Adams, NASA’s Deputy Director of Planetary Science. Though he is a busy man with many responsibilities, I sensed that he would be sympathetic to my desire. He was, and passed my request immediately on to Dr. Mary Voytek, NASA’s Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, from whom I heard within the hour.

I should pause and admit that until my son developed his interest, I had no idea that there were such things as astrobiologists. This is a discipline that studies all facets of the possibility of life in extraterrestrial environments. (For more information, you can go here.)

Dr. Voytek contacted one of NASA’s contracted astrobiologists, a researcher associated with the University of Florida and the Kennedy Space Center, Dr. Andrew Schuerger. By Friday I had an invitation from Dr. Schuerger to meet with my son at a local Beef-O-Brady’s. Dr. Schuerger, it turns out, lives but 9 miles from us.

I know some of you who read this don’t believe in God and I know that you will therefore write this off as coincidence. I can’t do that. God was giving a gift to my son, and through this, to me.

So, last night, had you chanced upon the Oviedo Beef-O-Brady’s, you would have seen at some tables families eating and talking about the events of the day, at other tables groups of manly men recovering from their frustrations at work, and all around every sports channel on the planet displaying the games people play. In the middle of it all was an experienced scientist whose research involves testing microbes for survivability in the harsh Marian environment handling and guiding the questions of a fascinated and captivated 11-year old boy. It was as priceless as it was surreal. (And humbling, I might add. They were discussing things clear to my son but opaque to me.)

There is no way to adequately express my appreciation to these men and women, to those who have loved my son, even at a distance. And I have no way to thank Dr. Schuerger for his gentle and enthusiastic way with him.

I have no way of knowing how this will in the future impact my son. But of the present it has thrilled him, and me, beyond measure. Thank you, all.

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