Thursday, April 23, 2015

Her father’s trip to the moon showed her the power of evidence

Commander David Scott emerges from a hatch during the Apollo 9 mission. The 10-day flight in 1969 provided vital information on the operational performance, stability and reliability of lunar module propulsion and life support systems. NASA photo.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t think flying into space was a big deal. All my friends’ dads went into space,” says Tracy Scott, senior lecturer in sociology and director of Emory’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).

The goal of Emory’s QEP topic, “The Nature of Evidence,” is to empower students as independent scholars capable of supporting arguments with different types of evidence. Scott’s interest in the topic was formed while growing up immersed in the culture of NASA.

Her father, Commander David Scott, was an astronaut who flew on Gemini 8, Apollo 9 and Apollo 15. He’s one of only 12 people who’ve ever set foot on the moon.

“The thing that was exciting for me was the chance to discover new evidence on the moon,” Scott recalls of her father’s lunar trip. “Here was a new environment that humans had never experienced before and there was a huge amount of knowledge to be gained. My dad took a lot of time before the Apollo 15 mission to explain the scientific goals to me. And particularly the experiment he was going to do on the moon. He helped to find new evidence to confirm a very old theory.”

Watch the video, above, to see Commander Scott conduct his famous hammer and feather experiment while standing on the moon. In a vacuous space, without air resistance, they fell at the same rate, just as Galileo predicted in 1589. It was a striking visual demonstration of what we now know as the equivalence principle: The influence of gravity and the influence of inertia are exactly the same.

“I thought it was really cool that my dad was able to do an experiment that linked all the way back to Galileo,” Scott says. “Learning about the power of evidence when I was a child inspired me. I developed a keen sense of seeking out evidence to deepen what I was being taught, and to support my own arguments and to create new knowledge.”

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