Shooting for the moon
- By John Monroe
- May 07, 2001
When NASA launched the Hubble telescope in 1990, it rekindled for me a latentinterest in space that dated to the last of the Apollo moon missions inthe early 1970s. With Hubble, I became mesmerized by the physics of space,as the images of distant galaxies and supernovas gave scientists new cluesabout the formation of our universe.
I continue to be fascinated by the latest revelations, but my interesthas shifted in recent years. Somewhere along the line I learned about theman for whom the telescope was named, Edwin Hubble, who pioneered the studyof galaxies in the early 20th century.
Technology, I realized, is only half the story. We can see the turbulenthistory of the universe in the latest still images from the Hubble telescopeonly because of the intuitive leaps of faith and imagination made by Hubbleand other astronomers a century or more ago.
The same is true in other disciplines. Though often viewed as cold andimpersonal, science is striking for its dependence on the whims and inspirationof individual men and women. But it's always that way with technology.
This month's cover story, "Politicians plug in," surveys the statusof technology in state legislatures. The range of activity is fascinating.Lawmakers in California and Nevada, for example, have embraced laptop computersand the Internet as a great way to keep on top of the issues, even as billsare being debated on the floor. In other states, technology remains a no-show,even banned outright.
Look back far enough in any of the pioneering states and without doubtyou will find a pioneer who saw the potential and made it happen. Eventually,such inspiration was turned into policy, and the pioneer was pretty muchforgotten. But rest assured, every policy began as someone's good idea,just as every scientific theory originated as someone's hunch.
I had a brush with pioneering early in my career, which is strange givenmy lack of technical know-how. I started out as an editorial assistant fora newsletter publisher when word processing was still in its infancy, sowe were printing columns of type and pasting them on pages. Somehow I figuredout that the latest version of WordPerfect made it possible to create columnselectronically.
Given the pretty basic design we were working with, I realized we couldlay out the pages electronically and save ourselves a lot of hassle. Itwasn't quite as easy as I had thought, but eventually it worked, and thewaxer was thrown out.
Likewise, state legislators, in most cases, have not done anything earth-shattering, but have simply applied technology to their work the way othershave done. They are not pioneers because of the originality of their vision,but for the way they have made their vision a reality in their particularorganization.
John Stein Monroe