As a scientist, sometimes people ask me: Why should the government fund astronomy? Why should the government drive cars on Mars, image exploding stars or fly a satellite into the sun’s atmosphere?
This is my standard answer: Because discovering how water forms on Mars or how stars produce heavy elements leads to new technology. And that technology creates industries, products, and jobs.
But here’s my real answer: Because it inspires people. As a solar physicist, I spend every day studying the sun. But during the solar eclipse last year, 200 million people—more than half of the U.S. population—went out of their way to look at the sun. Few events bring so many people together with such enthusiasm.
I want to make sure that we keep inspiring people to look up. That’s why I joined 14 other astronomers from the American Astronomical Society last week for a crash course on science policy and meetings with congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.
This is the most important thing I learned: If you contact your Congressional representative and request a meeting, they likely will say yes. And this meeting could really make a difference. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, in-person constituent visits influence undecided members of Congress more than any other engagement tactic. They’re more effective than calling, e-mailing, or attending a town hall.
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