“Follow your dreams, study hard, and someday you’ll live in a world as wonderful as the one we imagine in my books.”
Scientist and author Jeffrey Bennett has not been to the moon—yet. He hopes eventually to teach at the University of the Moon, where Girl Scouts will be among the students and their families will visit for spring break.
Jeffrey is a scientist, teacher, and writer who has sold more than 1 million books, including college-level textbooks in four subjects (astronomy, astrobiology, mathematics, statistics), children’s books, and books for the general public. Here’s what he has to say in his own words about how he got to where he is now:
“A few years ago, I went to one of my high school reunions, and beforehand we were asked to name our greatest disappointment so far in life. Here’s what I said: ‘I haven’t been to the moon—yet.”
It might seem a strange thing to say, but I was in elementary school when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. It was an incredibly exciting time, and it made children like me believe that anything and everything was possible. I also knew that when my own parents had been children, only a few people had ever flown in airplanes, but by the 1960s air travel was open to millions of people. I thought for sure that the same thing would happen with space travel by the time I was a grown-up, and I assumed that trips to the moon would be as easy by now as a trip across the ocean had already become back then. Of course, it has not turned out that way. No one has been back to the moon since 1972, and we still have not sent people to any other worlds.
“Some people tell me that this is okay. They say that we have lots of problems we need to solve here on Earth, and that we should focus all our energy on these problems before we focus attention on going into space. But I’ve always believed—and continue to believe—that the best way to solve our problems and build a better future is by showing people everywhere the incredible possibilities that await us.”
By exploring space, we show that our human potential is unlimited, and knowing that we have unlimited potential will make it much more likely that we’ll all come together to build a safe, peaceful, and sustainable world.I’ll give you a simple analogy: I hope you are all good students in school, and if you think about it, you’ll realize that the reason you learn is not because the teachers are going to give you tests, but rather because you know that learning is fun and that it helps you prepare for your future.
It’s the same for the whole human race; we can think of our current problems as tests we need to pass, and we’ll be much more likely to pass these tests if we’re taking them while thinking about our future at the same time. So I still hope that I’ll get a chance to go to the moon someday, and that all of you Girl Scouts will get the same chance. Perhaps we’ll even build a University of the Moon, where I’ll have the privilege of having some of you as students.
These ideas led me to decide that I would dedicate my life to teaching, with the particular goals of teaching about why we should all keep focused on our dreams of the future and how we can achieve those dreams. I therefore went to college (at the University of California, San Diego) to study science, but at the same time I took a job working as a teaching assistant at an elementary school. I later went on to get a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado, and during that time I ran my own summer school for elementary and middle school children and led work on building the Colorado Scale Model Solar System, a 1-to-10-billion scale model that allows you to walk among the sun and the planets as though you are a cosmic giant. Later, I was able to convince the Smithsonian Institution to build a similar model, now called the Voyage Scale Model Solar System, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2001. I’m still working with the Voyage team to build similar models in other cities, and several are already open (including in Houston and Kansas City).
After I got my PhD, I spent many years teaching at the University of Colorado. I developed my own notes for my classes, and these eventually turned into the textbooks that I now write. Meanwhile, the time I had spent teaching elementary school made me want to write books for children, so I was excited when I finally got the opportunity to do that for real.
Today, I focus almost all my energy on my writing. I’m usually working on at least two textbooks each year, and then use my spare time to work on children’s books and books for the general public. I spend a lot of time working but also make sure I spend plenty of time with my family: my wife Lisa, my two children Grant (now in ninth grade) and Brooke (now in sixth grade), and of course our dog, Cosmo, who models as ‘Max’ for my books.”
The “official” details: Jeffrey graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in biophysics from the University of California, San Diego, then received a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Jeffrey’s college textbooks have sold more than 1 million copies. His astronomy textbook, The Cosmic Perspective, is the best-selling astronomy textbook in the world and is used at colleges in more than a dozen countries; it was also carried into space during the 2009 Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. For the general public, his book Beyond UFOs was chosen by Miami University as the one book required for all incoming students in 2008–09, an honor previously afforded to writers including Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Elie Wiesel, and Margaret Atwood; his latest book for the public, Math for Life, won the 2012 Colorado Book Award. Among children, he is well known for the Max Science Adventure series and The Wizard Who Saved the World. He has run an extensive program to donate copies of his books to schools, having so far donated nearly 20,000 copies to school libraries in more than 10,000 schools in more than 50 countries. Max Goes to the Moon was read aloud from orbit by astronaut Alvin Drew during the final mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery, and it has recently opened as a multimedia planetarium show. He is currently working with astronaut Drew and others on a new program called Story Time From Space, for which Dr. Bennett is working on a new book that will be read aboard the International Space Station.