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Volume 46 | Issue 2 | March 2004

News

 
photo: Center Director Kevin L. Petersen.

Center Director Kevin L. Petersen inspires Flagstaff, Ariz., grade-school students during a presentation about NASA's mission.
NASA Photo / Tom Tschida

Dryden reaches out

By Beth Hagenauer and Frederick A. Johnsen
Dryden Public Affairs and Acting Public Affairs Director

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, Dryden Center Director, to speak with students at Flagstaff Middle School about NASA's commitment to space exploration. Students from Flagstaff's DeMiguel and Marshall elementary schools also attended the February event.

Morin narrated "home movies" for the students, but not the kind containing vacation scenes from the beach. Morin's movies showed him in action in space, as part of a 10-day Space Shuttle Atlantis mission in April 2002. He performed two space walks in which he attached an S-zero truss - an important structural component - to the International Space Station 200 miles above the Earth.

Petersen told the students, grades five through eight, that 20 or 30 years in the future, all of them would be in a position to contribute to the exploration of space. He and Morin spoke about NASA's new vision for space exploration, a sweeping initiative announced in January by Pres. George W. Bush that aims to leverage the best capabilities of robotics and humans in an ongoing journey into space.

Astronaut Morin described the gloves he wore in space as "clumsy kitchen mitts." The space suit weighs 300 pounds on Earth - which makes astronauts grateful for near-weightlessness in space, he said. And when the Space Shuttle's twin solid rocket booster motors light up on launch, "It feels like you've been hit in the back by a semi (truck)," Morin told his listeners.

The visit energized the students, who peppered Morin with questions about the stars and planets and Space Shuttle travel.

"How many years until we go to Pluto?" one queried.

"A long time," Morin answered, reminding his audience that the new NASA space initiative "is a journey, not a race." When asked an especially probing question that would have required a too-lengthy explanation, Morin urged the questioner to take physics in high school, and be able to figure out the answer unassisted.

The Flagstaff visit by Petersen and Morin was part of the NASA Explorer Schools (NES) initiative, aimed at encouraging schoolchildren to pursue academics that might lead to careers in technology fields such as engineering. As part of the three-year partnership between NASA's Education Enterprise and the National Science Teachers Association, fifty schools were selected from around the nation in 2002 to be Explorer Schools.

The five schools affiliated with Dryden through the NES program are Black Mountain Elementary and Middle School, Golden Valley, Ariz.; Flagstaff Middle School; Kennedy Elementary School, San Diego; Edwards Air Force Base Middle School and Gifford C. Cole Middle School, Lancaster.