A big part of astronauts' lives are serving as "ambassadors" or mentors for the younger generations. Just meeting someone like that can change a kid's trajectory.
I was lucky enough to have had a 5 minute conversation with Alan Shepard a few months after his moonwalk... it was like getting injected with some sort of drug designed to make me more interested in science.
In fact, I am still in awe and think about it every time I see the moon.
Kids today will probably not even learn about it. Too much “American exceptional-ism”, “non-sustainable pollution” or some other claptrap. But hey, at least they'll still have jobs in NASA’s Muslim outreach program...
As a kid (born in 1955), I was completely hooked on the space program. Astronauts were literally my heroes. I knew every mission, every crewmember's name by heart. My desire to go into space led me to the USAF Academy, flying for SAC, etc.....but alas, never in space.
Years later, in the mid 90's, Shepard's book Moon Shot came out. I went to two separate book signings, had him sign probably 8 copies of that book (that I gave as gifts, keeping one for myself, natch). Still.....never got to talk to the guy.
Couple of years after that, I was with a different company and went to Detroit for a convention/trade show. It was setup day on the convention center floor (vendors setting up booths, etc.). I look over, and who should I spy but Alan Shepard with some sweet young thing (marketing/PR type, it turns out) in the Loctite Corp. booth; hardly anyone around. I walk right on over....and he and another guy are joking around, comparing Shepard's Annapolis ring to the other guy's West Point ring. I slam my hand down between them....the hand with my AF Academy ring....and said "Beat ya both. Take that." He thought that was stinkin' hilarious.
I took the opportunity to finally introduce myself, telling him "Admiral, I 'met' you twice during book signings, bought a boatload of your books....and never even got to so much as shake your hand." Of course, he smiled and extended his hand to me.
I then proceeded to tell him what I just shared with you....how he and his fellow Mercury (then Gemini, Apollo, et al) astronauts inspired me to go to the Academy, fly for Uncle Sam, etc. He stared at me, mouth agape.....and just said "wow". I laughed and said, "Sir, you can't possibly tell me that you didn't realize the impact you and your fellow astronauts have had on generations of kids, probably starting with my generation. Surely you've heard this before!" He was just so floored....so humbled....it was amazing.
Here this man was the first American in space and seemed genuinely to NOT know the impact he had on so many lives. Well by God, after that moment, he sure did.
That little PR honey took a snapshot of he and I shaking hands, then emailed it to me. It was blown up and framed as a birthday gift for me by a family member, and hangs on my office wall today.