By Suzanne Hauser and C. Howard Diaz
Jason looked up in awe at the enormity of the Kennedy Space Center.
“They could fit a rocket in this building,” he commented.
“Of course they could,” Colonel Matheson agreed, “and they have.
“Later, we’ll take a tour of the grounds and I’ll show you where the spacecraft are designed, tested and finally put all together. For now, lets enter the cinema and begin our session.”
The children sat in blue velvet chairs and listened as the Colonel introduced the Ozone. The lights went out and the room burst into a bright shade of yellow from the immense screen that covered not only the front of the room but the ceiling and sidewall like a dome.
The Colonel’s voice echoed over the loud speaker. “Welcome to our atmosphere. We are going to learn all about our atmosphere and the variety of elements that comprise it like chemicals and also those elements that affect it: sun, wind, volcanos, spacecraft, oceans; a whole variety of things.”
“We’re interested in finding out about the earth’s ozone layer and how it affects our atmosphere. So lt’s get started. Who knows what is ozone?”
A few bands raised but Jonny blurted out, “Ozone is fresh air.”
Jason had to laugh.
” Hey Jonny, for someone with a photographic memory, that’s not a very elaborate description.”
Colonel Matheson agreed. “Not very elaborate, indeed, but quite accurate. You see, we can dice up ozone into chemical compounds and reactions, but when it comes right down to it, fresh air is it.”
“And because ozone is thought of as ‘fresh air’, the thought of it shrinking or being destroyed can cause much alarm.”
Heather’s asked what many were wondering, “Is our earth’s ozone being destroyed? Are we going to run out of fresh air?”
The children waited wide-eyed afraid of the answer the Colonel might give.
“Before I answer that, let’s take a look at what some experts think. ”
The screen flashed black then returned with a large grid and colored graphs.
“For now, let’s take a look at the molecules that make up the ozone layer in our atmosphere. As shown in these charts, there’s chlorine, oxygen……….. When these molecules interact with various chemicals and ultraviolet light from the sun, certain reactions occur.”
“Many feel that the chlorine atoms combined with ultraviolet radiation result in the destruction of the ozone molecules. This is the basis for the Ozone Destruction Theory.”
Jason looked around the darkened room at the faces that were concerned as his,, But Colonel Matheson continued.
“Remember kids, this is just a theory. And theories are not fact. We must remember, just because someone, even a scientist,
thinks one way, it does not mean it is true. All theories must be tested and retested to make sure all factors were considered.”
“When you’re dealing with something as large as the earth’s atmosphere, you can imagine all the factors that have to be considered. So let’s dig into this theory and see what makes it tick.”
“A major factor in this ozone depletion theory, is that there is a
hole in the ozone above Antarctica.”
“As you know, I just returned from Antarctica and I can verify that there is a hole.”
Again the room transformed from charts and graphs to a blue sky blotched with clouds.
“Look there, straight up. Do you see the clear area? Looks like a giant hole. These -photographs were developed from computer data gathered from a satellite. Believe me, I could not see anything like this with my naked eye or even through a telescope at the south pole. Looks pretty convincing, doesn’t it. But now look at this. ”
The screen flashed again and a similar picture appeared. This time, however, the clear spot was not visible.
“This photograph was compiled from data three months after the previous shot. You can clearly see that the “hole” is gone.”
A sigh of relief encircled the room.
Jason asked, “Where did it go?”
“Where did it go? Excellent question. We said earlier that Ozone is created and destroyed by molecules reacting with ultraviolet radiation. During the winter, the South Pole is turned away from the sun. For months it gets no light at all.”
“That would be awful,” Jonny groaned. “And I thought Oregon had long nights!”
During this time, the hole we saw earlier begins to form and grow as the winter months continue.”
“Oh no” came the response from the audience.
“But,” the Colonel continued, “as spring returns and sunlight again shines on the pole, the hole shrinks and eventually disappears until the next winter.
So you see, this cycle happens each year and probably has since the beginning of time.”
Jason shook his head in wonder and asked, “Then why is everyone so concerned right now with the Ozone Hole and say it’s going to kill life on the “6 O’Clock News.”
“As I said earlier, we need to look at who is saying what.”
“But I heard it on the news that scientist have proof that the hole is getting bigger and the government is even banning chemicals that they think causes the hole.” Jason argued.
“Again, who are these scientist? Let me put it another way. Let’s say you joined a baseball team.”
“I love baseball,” Jason agreed.
“Say all the kids had new gloves. You wanted a new glove too, but your mom said you already had an old one that was perfectly good. How would you get her to buy you a new glove?” Colonel Matheson asked, “Well, I’d probably go ask my dad. He understands baseball stuff better than my mom.” The rest of the children laughed.
“What would you tell your dad? Would you say ‘I’m tired of my old glove that is perfectly good?’ Or would you say something like,
‘Dad, I just have to have this new glove. Everyone on the team has a new one and if I play with this old worn out one I’ll be benched! I know the new glove will make me play my best. Buy me the glove and I’ll show you.”‘
Jason had to agree. “The second version would probably get me the glove. ”
“Well, it’s the same with scientists. There are many good scientists working on all types of projects. Money, however, to pay for experiments is limited; so each scientist must ask for money for his experiment.
Of course if the experiment doesn’t seem urgent compared to another scientist’s experiment then the money will go elsewhere. So just like when you want a new mitk, scientists sometimes have to exaggerate their need to ensure they get funded.”
“You mean they lie?” Heather asked.
“Don’t think of it as lying. Most scientists would not lie to get money. But there are other ways to present ideas and data to make something look worse than it really is. Then when the media gets a hold of it, the story can be blown out of proportion.”
“Why would they do this?” Jonny asked.
“I think you kids are old enough to realize that most things get done because of money. Companies advertise their products as being new and improved or best value or whatever to make you and your parents buy the product. “
“Well the news media is just the same. Not many people would watch the news if every day they said, “Oh, nothing much new today. Same old crimes. Tune in at eleven for the same information.”
That would be pretty silly. Of course no one would watch. But what if they could say, ‘Earth being destroyed by giant ozone hole’
Wouldn’t you want to watch?” The Colonel asked.
“But how can they say something if it isn’t true?” Heather was concerned.
“I think I get it,” Jason nodded. “There is a hole in the ozone.
That is fact and gets our attention. The rest are details that are hard to understand.”
“I think people just remember the scary parts.”
“I think you are right,” Colonel Matheson agreed. “Let’s take a break and go enjoy some of this sunshine we’ve been talking about!”
Jason, Heather and Jonny sat on the grassy hill outside the space center cafeteria.
“I love this weather,” Jonny lay back with her arms folded behind her head. “Do you think we could really be getting extra radiation from chemicals eating our sky?”
“I hope not,” Jason answered. “I’d like to think everything is just fine. ”
“Well if the Colonel says so, I believe him,” Heather said.
Just then Richard came screaming across the grass, his red hair flying wildly as fie approached.
Panting he approached the group and fell to his knees, dropping his donuts and milk to the ground. “You guys will never believe what I just heard.”
” Slow down, ” Jonny commanded. “What are you talking about?”
“I was standing in line for my snack, and Kory and Moose were sitting at a table near the straws and I noticed that they were talking real low so no one could hear them, but Kory looked really mad.”
“Yeah?” Jonny said.
“So when I got my milk I went over to the straws and took my time opening it and my milk carton so I could hear what they were saying.”
“Speaking in English?” Jonny asked.
“Yeah, perfect English like they went to school in London or something. Anyway, I heard Moose say something about not getting the plans yet. Then Kory got super mad and told Moose he was tired of waiting and if he didn’t get them by tomorrow night then he would just send Moose back to Moscow right away.”
“Then I guess fie saw me standing there and said something to Moose in Russian. Moose looked at me with a mean face. I just smiled like I was just picking up a straw and ran out of there as fast as I could.
“What plans to you think they were talking about.” Heather asked.
‘The secret plans they’re going to steal, dummy.” Jonny snapped.
“Wow, a real spy right here at NASA. We gotta stop them.” Richard said.
“You guys are crazy,” Heather accused. “Jason, tell them they’re crazy. ”
Jason looked at Heather and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe they are spies. How should I know. I say we watcho( them and see if they do anything weird.”
Heather stood up and grabbed her bottle of orange juice. “You guys are going to get into trouble, again.” With that, she tossed her long brown hair and headed inside.
Jonny turned up her nose and shook her head. “Just ignore miss goody two shoes. She doesn’t know anything. I say, if Kory and Moose are spies then it’s our American duty to stop them from stealing secret plans.” Jonny squinted her already slanted eyes and said, “And I know just how to do it.”