I started out as a child, as Bill Cosby said. Back in 1953, Mars was very close to Earth, I was 7 years old, and my parents took my sister and me to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. We saw the giant meteorite at the Hayden Planetarium, we saw the model on the ceiling with the planets circling the Sun, we heard about canals on Mars, we saw the dinosaur bones stamping their feet, we saw the evolution displays of fish and human ancestors, and I was hooked. I wanted to know how we got here, from the beginning. My father studied dairy cattle breeding and feeding at the Rutgers experiment station in Sussex, New Jersey, and he told me bedtime stories about cells and genes. My mother was a grade school teacher and she read out loud from biographies of Darwin and Galileo. Her father was a bacteriologist at Abbott Laboratories, and had helped develop penicillin. Scientists were heros, and sometimes in great danger. I read Paul deKruif's Microbe Hunters, and thought about making the world a better place through science. I had nightmares about being imprisoned for my beliefs, or for teaching evolution in the schools.
I was only 11 when the Sputnik went up. Americans were already afraid of the Russians, and now we were desperately afraid. We had air raid drills in school, and were taught how to put our heads down under our desks. My father got a Geiger counter to find out if things were radioactive, and was part of the Civil Defense system. Suddenly it was good to be good at science and math. I got books every two weeks from the Bookmobile, which the county library sent around to farms. Even the library itself was brand new. We had a science fair, and I saved up my allowance, a quarter a week for a long time, to buy a Heathkit shortwave radio with five vacuum tubes. I put it together myself, but it didn't work because my soldering iron was meant for roofing, and had melted some parts. A few months later I found out how to get some new parts, and suddenly there were voices from far away. I studied the parts catalog from Allied Radio the way other kids memorized baseball statistics. I built a ''robot'' with some vacuum tubes and motors from my Erector set, and entered it in the science fair, but it didn't do anything. Transistors were invented, and Boys Life, the Boy Scouts' magazine, carried articles about how to build radios. Microwave relay towers were built on the mountain nearby, and one of the engineers there started up a 4H club for electronics.
By the time high school came around, the country was supporting summer schools for science kids. I learned math at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, one summer, in an old red-brick building whose cupola had been touched by a tornado while people were praying inside it. I learned physics at Cornell University the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, and now I thought I might really be able to be a scientist. I'd seen some laboratories and I loved the energy of my favorite teacher, Mike Nieto, who was a graduate student. I was even pretty good at the work. I got back to telescopes, saved up my allowance, and assembled a small reflector from parts from Edmund Scientific. I borrowed The Amateur Telescope Maker, all three volumes, from the library over and over. I tried to measure the motions of asteroids and compute their orbits, but the math was much too hard for me. I tried to learn it from a book, but Gauss, who invented this subject in the mid nineteenth century, was way ahead of me (and still is). I did enter this project in my high school science fair, and it went on to state level and won me a trip to Chicago and an invitation to go on a Navy cruise.
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Since World War II, there has been a tremendous change in the makeup and direction of kid baseball, as it is called. Adults, showing an unprecedented interest in the activity, have initiated and developed programs in thousands of towns across the United States programs that providebr wholesome recreation for millions of youngsters and are often a source of pride and joy to the community in which they exist.