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Ever since I was a boy and my father introduced me to science fiction in general and Robert A. Heinlein in particular, I’ve been hooked on the future. Futuristic cityscapes with fantastic architecture, amazing mass transit and flying cars (goddamit, where are the flying cars they promised us?!) never fail to catch my attention. Star Trek and Star Wars became my fascination; the fiction of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Spider Robinson  and Joe Haldeman  became an escape from the doldrums of my high school years.

I dreamt of travelling to worlds both strange and fascinating aboard starships gleaming and beautiful, reflecting the glow of nebulae from their chrome hulls. I imagined what alien races would look like; would they resemble life on earth – reptilian, insectoid or even humanoid? Or would they look like something completely strange to us, shapes and sizes that even Lovecraft couldn’t imagine?

That continued as a young man and in a large extent right up to today. I still carry an affection for even badly made science fiction movies and get excited for films with even a hint of a sci-fi element to them. Even if it’s just a few years in the future, the advent of new technology is exciting. It is this feeling of a brave new world that has moved my support of the space program.

There are plenty of Proxmire sorts who think that NASA is an enormous boondoggle, a waste of money that can be put to better use solving earthly problems (you want to solve earthly problems? eliminate the freaking tax breaks for the rich – that will contribute far more to the bottom line than eliminating NASA ever would). I find that thinking incredibly short-sighted.

For one thing, the space program of the 60s has contributed so many industries to our economy that you could say that it paid for itself many times over. No, I’m not talking Tang and Velcro. I’m talking personal computers. Yup, computers used to fill entire rooms. NASA had to find a way to fit one in a vehicle not quite the size of a jumpy castle for kids parties. This spurred development in semi-conductors which would lead to new kinds of processors which form the heart of our modern PCs.

The cell phone industry wouldn’t be around without the space program. The satellites that orbit the planet which power the GPS devices that are commonly in use now are almost all launched by NASA. Those satellites were developed in part so that NASA could communicate with the astronauts who were on lunar missions.

Medical research has also benefitted from NASA. The artificial heart pump developed by Dr. Michael deBakey was inspired by the design of the space shuttle fuel pump.  Designs of space suits meant to be used in high heat situations are now being used to help burn victims.

There have been other, subtle benefits of the space program as well. Protocols developed by NASA to protect the astronauts from food poisoning on their long extra-terrestrial voyages are now in use by the FDA, leading to a significant drop in salmonella cases since those safety protocols were put in place. Restoration of 19th century paintings damaged in a church fire as well as an Andy Warhol painting vandalized in a Pittsburgh museum that were not restorable by conventional means were saved using technology developed by NASA to test materials for satellites that might otherwise be gradually eroded by high-atmosphere oxygen molecules that erode materials in spacecraft and satellites.

NASA has also found ways to utilize Teflon in space suits which have now been used in roofing for buildings and stadiums all over the United States. There are also parachutes that have been developed for NASA that are now in use in commercial and private small planes that have been credited with saving more than 200 lives.

But put that aside. As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson commented on the Real Time with Bill Maher program earlier this year, the space program helped create an atmosphere of innovation that pervaded our culture for more than twenty years after the last Apollo mission. It was an atmosphere that encouraged innovation, of different disciplines working together to solve problems that led both directly and indirectly to new products, new industries and a robust economy.

As the space program has been marginalized over the past few decades once the moon landing was achieved, people have seen it as a relic, a government institution that has outlived its usefulness. After all, what has it accomplished since 1969 other than being a colossal waste of money and time? And in these days of economic stress, is there really a need to send up glorified city buses up to the International Space Station which in itself seems nothing more than a destination for Russian billionaires to live out their Buck Rogers fantasies.

The space program is much more than that. It provides innovation and it provides inspiration. Both are in short supply in our culture these days. I can understand the complaints against NASA. Truly, I can. I realize that there are plenty of things that need attention and funding right here on Earth. NASA is in the tomorrow business. The data that the Curiosity rover transmits today may not bear any fruit for months, years, even decades – but the sky crane that dropped it onto the Martian surface may pay dividends not only for future space exploration but here on earth as well.

There will always be problems on earth. Eradicating hunger, homelessness and hatred are going to take more than a budget and a plan and quite frankly, chances are that we aren’t going to ever eliminate the last of those. You can’t legislate smart and you can’t legislate thought. People will be idiots and bigots and there’s not much you can do to change that. Well, there is – you need to make education a good thing. A desirable thing. You have to put money into the school system and in paying the teachers properly. You need to emphasize science as a means of effecting change and technological improvement. You need to give kids dreams and goals; show them that hard work and tolerance for all cultures, creeds and beliefs is preferable to fear, mistrust and hatred. But that doesn’t seem to be in our DNA these days in terms of educational goals.

But what you can change is tomorrow. You can invest in tomorrow by aiming high now. Is there a reason to go to Mars? Hell yes! There are reasons to create habitations in space. There are reasons to send probes to the planets. It’s not just so eggheads can get work; it’s so that our fundamental understanding of how things work becomes more accurate. What does that do for us? Not just satisfying intellectual curiosity – it helps us understand the things that may threaten our species and how to prepare for them, be they asteroids from deep space or bursts of radiation from the sun that might irradiate the planet and wipe out all life on this very fragile rock. It also helps us discover new ways of looking at things – not the least of which is ourselves and our place in the universe. Is that practical? No. But it IS necessary.


Finland Pavilion

Finland Pavilion

THEME: Well-Being, Competence and Environment

PAVILION: The Pavilion resembles a Finnish kirnu, a large bowl. The Pavilion employs a series of different textures to suggest different natural elements, from fish scales to coastal rocks. The kirnu is surrounded by a pond, giving the effect of floating on the water.

Finland Pavilion

EXHIBIT: Visitors will enter the Pavilion and immediately as they come in on the left is an exhibit highlighting Helsinki as the World Design Capital for 2012. Some of these designs are available for sale in the Pavilion shop. Visitors then enter the inner courtyard, open to the elements, with a typical coastal rock in the center. Visitors will then ascend to the second floor where the welcoming area begins the exhibit in earnest. The first gallery shows the Finnish love for Sports, with bicycling and running as two of the sports displayed. Also on display are Suunto watches and Golla bags. A mural against the far wall shows an idyllic fantasy scene with large ball dandelions, bubbles and virtual Pavilion guides drifting in a lazy Finnish breeze.

Finland Pavilion

The next welcome area shows items for the living room and kitchen of the home, all designed by Finnish designers including Genelec, Secto Design, Durat and Oras. This leads to the first Exhibit Hall presented by Nokia. Innovations by the Finnish telecommunications giant are displayed, including their research on Green communications. A media wall of 200 Nokia cell phones will allow visitors to take their own pictures which will become part of the Pavilion display.

Finland Pavilion

Against the far wall, changing projections will utilize the bubble theme from the first mural to illustrate industry and innovation in the Finnish cities of Espoo, Helsinki, Oulu, Turku and Vanaa International Airport. The next installation displays the magic of Finland, from its breathtaking fjords, legendary trolls to its traditional role as the home of Santa Claus, all as interpreted by artists worldwide. The sauna, one of the national recreations of Finland, is given an exhibit, across from which a wall mural pays tribute to Lapland as the home of Santa Claus. On certain days during the Expo, visitors will get the rare opportunity to meet Santa Claus in person. Visitors will then enter the second Exhibit Hall, which will focus on the Finnish character. The exhibit begins with an examination of sisu, the trait of perseverance over adversity. A wall projection illustrates the green technologies of Finnish paper manufacture and water purification. The Finnish desire for growth, both culturally and individually, is also highlighted here. On their way out of the Pavilion, visitors can digitally sign a virtual guestbook in which they can select a Finnish scene as a background for their photograph.

CUISINE: There is a restaurant on the first floor next to the souvenir shop opposite the World Design Capital 2012 exhibit. Among the menu items, elk, reindeer, berries and vegetables will be among featured ingredients; Chef Petteri Luoto promises a menu that will place emphasis on fresh ingredients native to Finland.

SHOPPING: There is a small shop on the first floor on the far end of the World Design Capital 2012 exhibit where visitors can purchase items of superior Finnish design as well as Pavilion souvenirs.

Russia Pavilion

Russia Pavilion

THEME: New Russia: City and Citizen

PAVILION: Twelve irregularly shaped 20 meter tall towers in white, gold and red surround a 15 meter high central building known as the “Civilization Cube.” Each of the twelve towers are decorated with the national symbols of the twelve regions of Russia. The buildings are meant to resemble the circular formation of a Russian folk dance, and the overall design is based on the City of Children from beloved Russian author Nicolai Nosov’s “The Adventures of DUNNO and His Friends.”

Russia Pavilion

EXHIBIT: The first section of the exhibition, City of the Future through the Eyes of Children is characterized by artwork by children, inspired by their solutions to modern urban challenges showing the wisdom and whimsy of Russian children. These are displayed throughout this gallery along the walls and in specialized display cases.

Russia Pavilion

In the Innovations Hall, displays on safe nuclear power including a model of a Fast Neutron Reactor, superconductors, water reclamation and floating nuclear co-generation plants all showcase Russian innovation and science. In the Regional Tower, the twelve regions of Russia show their technology, culture and innovation in various displays highlighting each individual region.

Russia Pavilion

The City of Talents is a fairy tale version of a city as might be imagined by children – it is located on the second floor of the Pavilion. Interactive touch screens flash games help in the understanding of this section of the Pavilion, where whimsical and colorful characters display innovative solutions to ongoing urban problems. Bright colors, giant fruit and vegetables, and video screens lend an air of fantasy and charm to the Pavilion.

Russia Pavilion

CUISINE: There are two dining facilities available at the Pavilion’s exit; one a fast-food counter window, the other a full service sit-down restaurant where guests may experience the full extent of Russian hospitality.

SHOPPING: At the Pavilion’s exit is an extensive gift shop, where Russian goods and Pavilion souvenirs may both be purchased.

Republic of the Congo Pavilion

Republic of the Congo Pavilion

THEME: Natural Life in the Modern Setting

PAVILION: The domestic architecture of the Brazzaville Congo is the highlight of the Pavilion’s design; a semi-arc structure with columns.

Republic of the Congo Pavilion

EXHIBIT: At the entrance, models portray the train station and port of Pointe Noire, introducing the importance of the Republic as a central transportation hub. Art is displayed in train trucks along one wall, showing the whimsy and creativity of the people of the Congo. The importance of leisure is exhibited in a small display area surrounded by a fence with a lovely Arabic fountain at its center. An art gallery on the rear wall shows the innovation and creativity of Congolese art both ancient and modern. The final exhibit displays the natural resources and urban economy of the Republic of the Congo.

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion is located in the Africa Joint Pavilion.

Switzerland Pavilion

Swiss Pavilion

THEME: Rural and Urban Interaction

PAVILION: A combination of technological insight and beautiful dream, the Swiss Pavilion best shows the characteristics of modern Switzerland, its pursuit of excellence, innovation and high quality life as well as concepts of future-facing, forward-looking and sustainable development. From an architectural point of view, the Pavilion embodies the symbiosis between Town and Country. Two cylinders inside the Pavilion and the underside of the roof encompass the Urban Area. The Urban Area will be deliberately isolated, physically and acoustically. With its hard, rough floor and its characteristics of noise, shade, activity and constant movement, it corresponds to the Chinese “yin.” The planted roof with its gently undulating topography is a complementary contrast to the Urban Area; this open, bright and peaceful landscape corresponds to the Chinese “yang.” The element that links the two areas is a chairlift that transports visitors from urban pressures into the lightness of nature and back again. An interactive, intelligent façade enveloping the Pavilion is a curtain of woven aluminum elements under which visitors must pass to access the Urban Area on the ground floor. LED lights comprised of an energy source, a storage unit and a consuming unit is incorporated into the façade. The energy produced is made visible in the form of flashes that are triggered by the Pavilion surroundings such as sunlight or flash photography. Thanks to the storage of energy in each individual cell, the façade is also active at night when the cells will trigger each other.

Swiss Pavilion

EXHIBIT: Visitors enter the exhibition through an opening in the façade net. They are immediately directed along a ramp leading upwards. Along the route of the exhibition, 50 viewers set up along the ramp offer visitors three dimensional glimpses of innovative and sustainable Swiss success stories. These stories illustrate Switzerland’s practical solutions to challenges such as maintaining excellent air and water quality, sustainable construction and public transport. At the top of the ramp is an IMAX theater where an edited for length version of the hit IMAX presentation “The Alps” is presented. The film shows the beauty and majesty of the mountains, but also how harsh and difficult a habitat it is for those who dwell in the mountains.

Swiss Pavilion

Following the film presentation, visitors will encounter twelve Swiss citizens in life-size images on screens in the “face to face room”. They will talk about their visions of the future, their expectations and their dreams. This section focuses on the responsible citizen, which is a prerequisite for a healthy and sustainable future. Visitors will then descend the ramp to the chairlift ride, which takes them in a circular route up the second cylinder onto the roof and back down. The entire journey takes about ten minutes.

CUISINE: The public restaurant is located on the ground floor near the exit for the chairlift ride. It seats about 100 guests with both indoor and outdoor seating. It will serve authentic and tasty Swiss dishes and beverages. Throughout the Expo, participants from the world famous Montreaux Jazz Festival will entertain diners with world class jazz and pop music.

Swiss Pavilion

SHOPPING: The Pavilion shop is located on the ground floor and will be selling items from such famous Swiss manufacturers as Swatch, Weisbrod, Kuenzli, Logitech and Nestle, as well as an array of Pavilion-related souvenirs. Solar cells like the ones on the Pavilion façade will also be sold in the Shop, as well as indelibly Swiss items such as raclette ovens and flowercards.

International Council of Museums (ICOM) Pavilion

ICOM Pavilion

THEME: Museums, Heart of the City

PAVILION: The clean, simple and modern Pavilion has facilities for both fixed and monthly changing exhibitions. The front circular space can serve as both a featured exhibit area and an activity area.

EXHIBIT: The exhibition explores the interdependence and interactions between museums and city living in five aspects; culture, society, economy, innovation and environment. The video wall in the rear creates a sensational experience of the modern museum environment. The monthly changing exhibitions each focus on one region (Europe in May, Africa in June, North America in July, Latin America in August, Oceania in September and Asia in October) to present diversified images on museums. There are a series of activities and lectures on the theme.

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping area listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion is loated in the International Organizations Joint Pavilion

Israel Pavilion

Israel Pavilion

THEME: Innovation for Better Life

PAVILION: The Pavilion is composed of two streamlined buildings hugging each other. It resembles two clasped hands, or a “seashell.” One side is made of authentic stone while the other is of transparent glass. The design symbolizes Israeli innovation and technology as well as represents the dialogue between humanity and nature, the earth and sky as well as the past and the future.

EXHIBIT: The Pavilion highlights innovation and ancient Jewish culture. It consists of three areas; the Whispering Garden, the Hall of Light and the Hall of Innovations. Inside the stone area is the Hall of Innovations, symbolizing links with the earth and history, as well as the recycling of natural resources. Under the glass is the Hall of Light, symbolizing technology, transparency, lightness and the future. The Whispering Garden is an orchard that comes into view as visitors enter the Pavilion. About 50 orange trees have been planted and technology will make the trees “whisper” in English and Chinese when visitors walk close to them. Here, everyone is expected to be in direct touch with nature and the irrigation technology the Israelis take justifiable pride in. Visitors will enter the Pavilion itself at that point, with the walls covered with photomurals of various locations in Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Galilee and the Dead Sea resort area. The Hall of Light features a 15-meter screen that shows film highlighting the country’s innovation and technological achievements. Natural lighting filters in through the glass walls. Visitors will then enter the main theater. As the centerpiece of the Pavilion, the Hall of Innovations presents an audiovisual show that will allow visitors to hear from Israeli children, doctors, scientists and inventors on hundreds of screens. Each light sphere here represents innovation and technological breakthroughs in such fields as agriculture, pharmacology, solar and green energies, science, music, literature, computers, telecommunications, medicine and security.

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.