3 Inspiring Reasons Gen-Z is Choosing to Study Astronautics

College students across the nation are disproportionately choosing to study astronautics. It is our own doing. It is a search for meaning and purpose. It is a good thing.

3 Inspiring Reasons Gen-Z is Choosing to Study Astronautics
[Credit: Max Polyakov]

College students across the nation are disproportionately choosing to study astronautics.

It is a consequence of our own making. It is a longing to explore and leave our own mark. It is a search for meaning, purpose, and benefit to society. I see it in the eyes of our undergraduate and graduate students. This is a good thing.

Why are more and more students studying astronautics, and why is it good?

A Lego Generation

We've been pushing STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics - on school children for decades.

Lego (yes, that's the plural) have been placed into small, eager hands for over 50 years. Lego continue to entrance children (and adults!) despite easy accessibility to hypnotizing screens. Lego, additionally, is the anthem of 15 years of STEM education impressed upon Generation Z.

I've you've been or had a kid over the past 15 years, you've seen many options like this [Credit: Lego STEM activities for kids]

In many ways Lego is a poster-child STEM education tool.

"There are all sorts of things embodied in the Lego brick - geometry and mathematics and truth and proportion and shape and colour... It is a faintly spiritual activity that everybody connects with." (James May)


"You enrich people with creative resources, and over time, these Lego bricks that end up in their heads eventually build this enormous, incredible castle." (Maria Popova )

While Lego isn't clinically proven to push our youth into astronautics it does seem to predispose them for STEM careers.

Astronautics - an engineering discipline that includes technology and systems that enable spaceflight and space habitation - is perhaps a natural outlet. An outlet that excites our deepest selves.

Something that calls to us...

The Sea - It Calls Me

Carl Sagan once said that 'we have always been explorers.'

There is a foundational element of humanity that lives - thrives - by exploring and settling new places. The film Moana (one of my favorite movies to watch with my own kids) epitomizes this primordial instinct. Its origins are deep within us and have resulted in humans of all stripes spreading to every habitable nook and cranny on this Earth.

[Credit: Disney's Moana]
"This zest to explore and exploit, however thoughtless its agents may have been, has clear survival value. It is not restricted to any one nation or ethnic group. It is an endowment that all members of the human species hold in common." (Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot)

In our age the Earth is explored and the seas are circumnavigated for entertainment. We look for new seas to sail. The restless spirits and adventurers among us pine for aspirational, productive, and meaningful lives.

"For my part I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream." (Vincent Van Gogh)
“It isn’t that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” (Sir Francis Drake)

As a demographic Generation Z ambitions are stymied. They are simultaneously told to pursue their dreams and to be realistic. Is this possible? What life pursuits exist where realism and dreams touch? Many hope that a career in astronautics can resolve this paradox.

I think they're right.

The Pursuit of Meaning and the Promise of Purpose

The first launches from SpaceX publicized astronautics better than any NASA outreach program. Aerospace programs across the nation have been flooded with new applicants over the past decade.

Intuitively we understand that the difficulty of achievement is directly linked to our resulting satisfaction. In the pursuit of happiness (life-long satisfaction) what difficult achievement can possibly warrant the expenditure of one's life effort? Something big.

Something like space exploration and settlement.

Carl Sagan continues:

"Where are the dreams that motivate and inspire? We long for realistic maps of a world we can be proud to give to our children. Where are the cartographers of human purpose? Where are the visions of hopeful futures, of technology as a tool for human betterment and not a gun on hair trigger pointed at our heads?" (pg. 69, Pale Blue Dot)

Seneca understood this in general, though not how it would manifest.

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via" - "There is no easy way from the earth to the stars” (Seneca)
“Per aspera ad astra, Papa,' I whispered. Through hardship to the stars.” (Ruta Sepetys, Salt to the Sea)

I believe the pursuit of satisfaction is worthwhile. I believe that meaningful endeavors that benefit humanity bring me satisfaction. Expansion of humanity across the solar system is a goal of epic proportions and good. At least, that is why I chose to study astronautics. I think many Generation Z students are choosing it for the same reason.

Cliche, but like so many cliches, for a reason [Credit: AZ Quotes]

Astronautics is but one path. It challenges our faculties. It is the foundation of space exploration and settlement. Most importantly it can meet our all-to-human need for purpose and meaning.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

I think our efforts have worked. Let's join or help Generation Z in this great endeavor. If we can't join or help, we should at least get out of the way.

After all, aren't we all on the adventure of human history together?

"We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” (Gilbert K. Chesterton)

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A Ship in a Stormy Sea [Credit: Jean Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager (1814–1879)]