Ming: In space exploration and children’s television, a common goal

Guest Column by H. Melvin Ming.

A week from now, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum will open its Space Shuttle Pavilion, giving visitors the opportunity to get an up close view of the space shuttle Enterprise. Many New Yorkers have been following the shuttle’s journey. My colleagues and I had our eyes to the sky above our Manhattan offices in late April as the Enterprise flew over the tri-state area, piggybacked on a 747. City dwellers and tourists in New York and New Jersey flocked to piers along the Hudson River to watch as the shuttle moved to its new home. There’s a reason so many took the time to witness the events. It was a rare glimpse of a piece of history, but it is also the idea of touching the stars and orbiting the Earth that is awe-inspiring, stirs our excitement and makes us believe the impossible can be achieved.

“Sesame Street” debuted the same year Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Both ideas — of landing a man on the moon and making an educational children’s program — were at first met with skepticism. All doubts were quickly dashed, though, when each of the wild ideas culminated in pioneering new paths for their respective fields.

“Sesame Street” challenged the idea of what television programming for children could be — not just mere entertainment, but also educational. It not only challenged the idea of what children’s television could be, but it also changed the face of it, paving the way for the dozens of preschool programs that have come along and entire networks that exist today that are solely devoted to children’s programming.

The formula “Sesame Street” was built on is the scientific process. The shuttle Enterprise was used for ground tests that informed the development of other shuttles. Similarly, testing is an essential part of the development and success of “Sesame Street.” It is essential to ensuring that the show’s content engages, and that its messages are communicated and understood by, young viewers.

“Sesame Street” and Enterprise are each a part of our history and also represent the future. Today’s children are digital natives. They use technology at an astounding pace. Children today under the age of 6 are spending as much time with media as they are playing outside and three times as much as they spend reading books. More viewers watch “Sesame Street” on other platforms, such as YouTube and Netflix, than on television. There are also more ways than ever before to have a truly interactive “Sesame Street” experience, including e-books, apps and, later this year, “Sesame Street” Kinect TV, which will give a child the chance to interact with his or her favorite “Sesame Street” characters and make a virtual leap into “Elmo’s World.”

When President John F. Kennedy established our national goal of putting a man on the moon, he said, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” Those words are relevant today as we continue to innovate and to seek new understanding and awareness of our world.

As we move ahead, new inventions will continue to reshape how we do everything — exploring the world, watching television, preparing our children for school. The world is our classroom, and imagination will always be vital part in creating the future.

It’s what we who usher the continual development of Sesame Street hope to ignite in the next generation of young explorers — to discover the world around them but also beyond it.