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Off We Go into Outer Space, via Arizona

Students from Flagstaff Middle School in northern Arizona learned about NASA's plans for space exploration from Kevin Petersen
Students from Flagstaff Middle School in northern Arizona learned about NASA's plans for space exploration from Kevin Petersen, director of the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center during a visit to the school Feb. 17.
NASA photo

By Beth Hagenauer and Frederick A. Johnsen
NASA Public Affairs

Students in Flagstaff, Ariz., have friends in high places. Very high places. NASA's astronaut corps sent space shuttle veteran Lee Morin to join Kevin Petersen, director of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., to speak with students at Flagstaff Middle School about NASA's bold journey in space. DeMiguel Elementary School, in partnership with the middle school, brought students to the assembly as well.

Morin narrated "home movies" for the students, but they were not vacation scenes from the beach; he performed two spacewalks to attach an important piece of structure to the international space station 200 miles above the Earth.

Petersen told the girls and boys, in grades five through eight, that 20 or 30 years from now all of them will be in a position to contribute to our exploration of space. He and Morin spoke about NASA's new Vision for Space Exploration, a plan announced by President George W. Bush that could leverage the best capabilities of robotics and humans in an ongoing journey into space.

Students from Flagstaff Middle School in northern Arizona learned firsthand about space travel from astronaut Lee Morin.
Students and teachers from Flagstaff Middle School and DeMiguel Elementary School in Flagstaff, Ariz., learned firsthand about space travel Feb. 17 from astronaut Lee Morin.
NASA photo

Astronaut Morin described the gloves he wore in space as clumsy kitchen mitts. The spacewalk suit weighs 300 pounds on earth – thank goodness for weightlessness in space. And when the space shuttle's twin solid rocket booster motors light up on launch, Morin told the students, "It feels like you've been hit in the back by a semi" truck.

The students were animated by the visit and posed questions. "How many years until we go to Pluto?" "A long time," Morin answered, reminding his audience that the new NASA space initiative "is a journey, not a race." When one bright question would have required a too-lengthy explanation to answer properly, Morin urged the questioner to take physics later in high school, to be able to figure out the answer.

Following the successful landing of the second Mars rover in January, a NASA official noted the diversity of the team that made Mars exploration possible, coming from different backgrounds and locations all over the U.S. Just as the students in Flagstaff have friends in NASA, NASA is pleased to have friends in Flagstaff, and everywhere in the country where the prospect of communicating with space probes on Mars, and maybe one day going there, inspires new pioneers.