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Editor’s note: Somehow in the digital age, I got lost in space

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I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic last week, crawling along in the evening rush hour, when I opened the moon roof for a peek at the sky.

Here I was heading out to Tysons Corner to hear NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. address the Northern Virginia Technology Council and I didn’t have a clue what’s going on with the space program.

How did that happen?

NASA used to be the very center of my technology universe. Blast-offs and splashdowns were must-see TV. Nowadays, though, I know more about the latest iPhone than I do our outer space endeavors. How sad it is that my now adult-or-nearly-so kids have never experienced the thrill of space exploration like I did as a small boy in 1969, when man first hopped on the moon.

It didn’t take Bolden long to bring me up to date. Did you know American astronaut Dan Burbank hitched a ride to the International Space Station last week aboard a Russian rocket? They launched not in sunny Cape Canaveral but in the snow from a place called the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Here on Earth, Bolden said NASA is exploring the kinds of technologies that might be needed for deep space travel or a jaunt to Mars, way-out stuff like microgravity spacesuits, solar sails, laser-based communications and 3D printers that can spit out planetary outposts.

Bolden is no stranger to such futuristic pursuits. He is a four-time veteran of space flight. His mission now is pretty simple, as he learned from Northern Virginia Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA’s budget. You don’t need vision, Wolf counseled. You need money.

Plenty of local companies coexist in NASA’s orbit, Bolden observed. He gave a shout-out to Aurora Flight Sciences, a Manassas-based maker of robotic aircraft, and the Leesburg aerospace research firm Mosaic ATM, among others.

“We need you. We need you. So please work with us,” he urged the NVTC crowd.

The future can’t come quick enough, I thought afterwards, stuck in traffic again waiting to exit the Ritz-Carlton’s parking garage.

I could use a hovercar.

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