"For the first time in the history of our planet, a species has the technology to prevent its own extinction."
If this sentence sounds like a line from a movie, that's because it is. It's spoken by the president of the United States in the 1998 film Armageddon as a group of astronauts launches into space to prevent an asteroid from striking Earth. Back then, the idea that humanity could achieve such a staggering feat was so unimaginable that it could exist only in a Hollywood blockbuster.
On Sept. 26, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in collaboration with NASA, guided the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft into Dimorphos, an asteroid 7 million miles away, successfully altering its trajectory and proving that humanity can indeed divert an extraplanetary threat. This time the heroes were not the action stars of the '90s but the exceptional APL staff in the control room—along with so many other contributors to the mission, including faculty in our Whiting School of Engineering—who leaped in unmitigated joy when the spacecraft collided with the asteroid. Thousands of our undergraduates gathered on Keyser Quad to cheer along.
For me, the DART mission exemplifies what is possible when an institution like ours unites around a shared endeavor. Nor do we have to travel to outer space to make an impact. This fall, here in our hometown of Baltimore, we celebrated the distribution of the 10,000th pair of free eyeglasses to Baltimore City public school students as part of our Vision for Baltimore program.
The program began in 2016 when I asked the Baltimore City health commissioner to name one thing she wished she could do to help our city's K-12 students. Without missing a beat, she said: "Eyeglasses."
For years, Baltimore City public school students have had their vision tested, but only about 20% of students who needed glasses ever got them. To address this problem, we partnered with Baltimore City, local foundations, the national nonprofit Vision To Learn, and Warby Parker—the eyewear company co-founded by a Hopkins alum—to ensure that every single student in the school system who needs glasses gets them. Seventy-five thousand vision screenings later, 10,000 students and counting have eyeglasses.
Just like small spacecraft designed to change the trajectory of a massive asteroid, this laser-focused intervention has made a huge impact. A recent academic study showed definitively what we long suspected: Students who received eyeglasses made demonstrable gains in reading and math. The program was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the state of Maryland that will enable thousands more eye exams in the years to come.
From deep space to Baltimore City schools, I am so proud of what Johns Hopkins can achieve in concert with partners near and far.
Ronald J. Daniels