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Astronaut Candidate Interviews - Joseph Acaba
09.23.04
 
Q: I think I know what your reaction was. And, I heard some about your school's reaction to this idea that Joe's going to go be an astronaut. But, what about your family's reaction?

A: My family has been super supportive. They're very excited for me, I think. My family, myself included, it's kind of unbelievable. And, I think the reality is starting to set in. But, nothing but great support and enthusiasm.

Did your, uh, you've got kids.

Yes, I do. Three kids.

You have three kids. Tell me a little bit about your kids' reactions specifically.

It's, it's been pretty neat. And, my daughter was actually in my class when I received the phone call, and my other students were dispersed throughout the classroom and the hallway. And so, once I hung up and I gained my, regained my composure, I was able to pull her to the side and tell her the, the call finally came in, and I was able to share that with her. And, it was an exciting time. And then, quickly after that, I rounded up the other kids and told them; and they just couldn't believe it. "You're going to be an astronaut?" And, I said, "Yes, I am."

That's great. It's awesome. Talk about your, your class environment somewhat for the teachers that will be listening. Uh, how would you describe yourself in the classroom with, with either your teaching technique or style or how you approach learning in the classroom?

I'm, uh, I think a fairly active teacher. I try to keep the kids entertained. I'm not an actor, but a lot of what we do is keeping the kids engaged. And, the one thing I've learned in my years of teaching is that you really need to connect with the students one way or another. You need to get them excited about the subject matter. And, once they're, once they're excited and asking questions, then you're better able to teach the material. So, I always have lots of things in my classroom so when the kids walk in they go, "What's that? How does that work?" And, it just kind of sets the stage for whatever we're going to do that day.

You described something that I, I think of as sort of a light bulb moment. When, when the light goes off and somebody that didn't get it five minutes ago, bingo! Gets it now. So, can you perhaps elaborate and describe a situation where you've seen that take place in a, in a kid, and you just go "Wow! They totally get that now, and that made my day!"

It, that's, as a teacher, that is the moment you look for when the kids actually, like you said, a light bulb goes on and they go, "This is cool. Now I get this." And, I think one of the most exciting things is I teach math and science. And, a lot of times in science class I'll be teaching math and they'll go, "What are we doing math? This isn't math class." And, I try to explain that math is the language of science. And so, when we learn a concept in the math class and then we use it, let's say, in physics and we're using algebra in physics, and they go, "Well, now I understand why we did that." And, to me, that was, that was special when you could really tie in math, which is a subject that most kids find difficult, and tie that into the science area. And, very fulfilling when you actually do that and the kids get it.

Do you feel some, uh, uh, you're wearing the American flag on your sleeve now. And, there's an American flag on that Moon. And, there's more than one actually. Uh, does, what do you think this means in terms of your, your country?

Well, for me it's a, it's a great responsibility that I have. I'm very proud and honored to be here. But, the American standard is very high. And, I, you know, I look forward to, to working hard and to fulfilling my job in what I'm here to do. It's an honor. And, it's, it's pride. And, I'm glad to be a part of it.

Do you think that's one of the, the, the challenges we face in terms of, uh, of making those connections but also showing, perhaps, how it's applied?

It is. And, once again, it's showing the kids "Why is it important?" You hear that in mathematics all the time. "Why are we doing this? Why is this important to me?" And, I think with the space program, a lot of times just the general public and kids in general, "Why are we doing this? What's the importance of it?" And, I think, as an educator, to go through the process, I'm going to be in a better position to come back and explain to them why we are doing it and telling them it does have a value.

You're going to put in some situations in what we're calling astronaut school, which is sort of our fun name for it, you're going to go back to training here, and you'll be, you're, you're going to become the student again.

Yeah.

You're going to be put in some situations where as, as are other astronauts and engineers and scientists are around here, the medical professionals, etc., are put in, in simulations where, where they've got to solve problems. They've got to solve challenges that are very, very real to them, because they've got to get out of that simulation successfully. Uh, that, that and may in turn be important in a real mission at some point. So, uh, problem solving is, is key. Not just here at NASA, but any place you go to work. So, if you could talk perhaps about, uh, problem solving that you've observed in your classroom or you how you instill that in your kids.

I think, with problem solving, a lot of time teachers will kind of force feed children the information. And, it doesn't always work too well. And, if you get a student to be interested in the problem, they're, they're incredible. They have that intelligence. They have that desire. You just need to kind of pull it out from them. And so, a lot of times when I'm teaching a subject matter, instead of just telling them, "This is how things work," you just give them a general problem and say, "How would you handle this?" And, when they have the opportunity to do that, they get more involved, and they get excited about it. And then, they want to know, "Well, how does this work?" And then, once again you have that hook, and you have them.

You're a scuba diver.

Yes.

So, talk to me about a specific experience in scuba diving, a place you went perhaps, that you saw something for the first time. You may have read about it in a textbook, you may have seen a picture, but now you're there. And, you get to put your own two eyes on it, and you are the explorer, and, and how that perhaps relates to what we're doing in terms of space exploration.

Well, when I learned how to scuba dive, I was a senior in high school. And, there was a program the school had, a job training program. So, I was able to get certified through that program. And, the thing about scuba diving that I tell people is, when you go under water, it is such an, an unnatural environment for you to be breathing underwater. And, the first time I actually went into the pool and was able to breathe underwater, it was, like, "This is incredible. I can actually do this! I'm in an environment that I normally would not be able to go to." And then, once I went out into the ocean, and, like you said, you see a, you've read things in books, you've seen video. But, when you can go down and you actually see a shark coming towards you or you see a manna ray just so graceful in the water, it is a totally different experience, and it's very moving and very rewarding.

And, you obviously survived the experience of the shark coming to you.

Yes, I did. Uh, they're more intimidating maybe on film than they are in real life. And, it was, it's all been a good experience up to now.

So, that's, you've just described a situation where, uh, we, where you're put in that environment, an unnatural environment, which is similar to where you will travel as an astronaut --

Right.

-- a very unnatural environment, but yet one that you're sent to, to be an explorer for all of us. And, uh, so I wonder if you think, might think about or comment on what you see as the parallels there, and, you know, uh, sending humans to the Moon versus sending robotics, which clear, robots, which clearly we intend to send both but, but that interaction and why we're putting humans eyes on the surface.

Well, you always need to have that human component. The robots can do a lot of things, but there's a lot that has to be done, decisions to be made on the spot that you need a human intelligence to do that. And, space exploration, like you said, is similar to scuba diving; it's just a different environment. But, it's part of our nature to explore. And, it makes, you know, logical sense for us to want to go to the Moon. We're here on Earth. We see it every day. We learn about it. And, it's, it's a place that we should be going to explore. And, I think that humans are definitely a vital part in doing that.

Who, uh, can you relate, uh, relative to inspiration for yourself that, who, who moved you in a way that perhaps you didn't expect, uh, they, they gave you the encouraging word or the strong word or the, or the swift kick that said, "Do your homework!"

It all started with my family, my parents, especially my father. I think, growing up, I didn't appreciate those stern words, the, uh, the kick in the butt that says, "Hey, you need to do a little bit better." And, you know, there was conflict at times. And, and I see it as a teacher, there's conflict with the parent and the student. And, he really encouraged me to work hard and said, "There is a value to it." And, now as I look back and reflect, I just, I can't thank him enough for doing that. Just letting me know how important it is to get that education, and how, you know, how important it is to actually work very, very hard. And, when you do that, good things happen. Opportunities arise just like this. And, without those encouraging words, I wouldn't be here.

Do, uh, do you think about your colleagues that are still in the teaching profession (and you'll always be a teacher).

Yes.

We, we've snagged you for at least the time being to come be an astronaut. But, uh, as you think about teachers, I know personally, I go, I've never been a teacher but I've been in the classroom and I've tried to keep kids engaged for 45 minutes at a time. It's not an easy thing to do.

No.

Uh, especially at certain age levels.

Right.

So, I guess the question would be: what, what words of encouragement do you have for your fellow educators that are out there? And, please speak to them as if, if they're sitting in my seat.

Well, I think teachers know how important their role is. And, I would say almost every teacher I've ever met, they're there because they love the job. And, they realize the importance of the job. And, I think, over time, sometimes it might be a long school year. You may get discouraged where you have a group of kids that didn't really quite get where you wanted them to go. But, I want those teachers to know that it is worth it. I can look back at teachers that I've had that maybe at that time I didn't realize the value of what they were teaching me. But, I do now-as I look back. So, not to be discouraged, to keep working hard with the students. They're our future, and there's just a lot of potential there that they could really develop. And, I'm a little envious, because they're going to be in that classroom; and, although I'll be able to impact a lot larger audience, there is something special about being in the classroom. And, they're in a, a great position, so love every day of it.

Do, uh, in, in one word to the students, uh, that are maybe struggling and they've got an exam ahead of them. What would you say to them?

Two words: hard work. And, it's, it's okay to struggle. And, it's okay to, to ask for help. I know when I went to college, it wasn't easy. And, I actually went out looking for help. And, there's a lot of help out there for students, and they need to take advantage of what they're given. The, the American school system is great, and they need to take advantage of it.

Do you find yourself looking at the Moon in a different way?

I look at it now and I, before it was, "I'd like to go there someday." And now, it's, "I want to go there sooner." And, I, I want to be there. And, I want to go. And, I want to explore. And, it's, it does have a different meaning now. And, I was actually driving or talking on the phone with my brother one day, and he said that he was staring at the Moon the other day and he looked at it and said, "Wow! My brother might be going there someday." And so, it has a different meaning for him. And, that's what I think the educator astronaut program can do, is that: We are teachers. We're everyday people. And, I think we can inspire others by what we're doing.

End tape.