In 1961, President Kennedy firmly committed the U.S. to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. You know what that means. When the commander-in-chief says, “Jump!” we at NASA didn't even have to ask, “How high?” We already knew: as high as the moon.

It was audacious, when you think about it. The president announced his national goal, and we were obliged to pull it off, ready or not. At this point, we hadn't even seen the back side of the moon! The truth is, we weren't even completely sure it wasn't made of green cheese! Or, as one of our professors asked, “What if the moon is made of Jell-O powder? What if our spacecraft landed on the moon, and then returned, splashed down in the sea, and the whole ocean coagulated?! We just didn't have any idea.

What is a biologist?

I was part of the team of biologists — although I use that word advisedly. What in heck is a biologist? You can be a zoologist and know something about animals, or you can be a botanist and know something about plants. But what's a biologist? So far as I know, a biologist is a high school teacher — that's the only place they exist. How could anyone study life? We can't even define it!

How do you define life? What would the elements be?

Let's say we go up to Mars and we're going to search for life. The first thing we'd do is search for things we know are alive when we see them here on earth.

We’d look for things we know — plants, animals, microbes, that sort of thing.

But why would we be so arrogant as to assume that life cycles on Mars are the same as we have here on earth? If we go to Mars and expect to find a field of wildflowers, and we actually see wildflowers, then fine. There's life. But if we don't see wildflowers, then there's no life?

In winter, during my classes in Minneapolis, I have my students look out the window and I direct their attention to a little group of oak trees standing in maybe two to three feet of snow.

I ask them: “Suppose I told you that of those six trees, two are dead and four are living. How would you decide which ones are alive?”

The truth is, with those trees, you can't tell which ones are alive until spring comes.

The definition of life is not an absolute thing. It depends on opportunity. A thing can be alive but in a dormant state, and you can't tell until you give the thing an opportunity to flourish.

The Rebbe was famous for never, ever, accepting aWhat if you can't wait until springtime? pessimistic point of view. He always insisted on assuming the best, the most optimistic scenario. In all of his outreach work to Jews all over the world, he always assumed that every Jew would happily adopt a Torah way of life if he just had the opportunity.

You have to give Torah an opportunity. When you give a Jew an opportunity to come closer to G‑d, he'll take that opportunity, and he'll love it. He will flourish. You might have to wait until springtime, of course. Life is there, but you can't see it all the time.

And what if you can't wait until springtime? Then you'd better make some artificial springtime right now. Bring springtime into the world, right now. Whatever the season.