By Frank Ochoa-Gonzales,
NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
While most 6-year-olds are eager to get an autograph of their favorite pro athlete or theme-park character, Connor Johnson was seeking signatures for an online petition to save NASA’s funding from budget cuts.
When Connor learned of potential budget cuts last year that threatened his dream of working for NASA, he decided to do something about it.
First, Connor wanted to donate his piggy bank, all $10.41. But after talking it over with family, Connor decided to start a petition on the White House website.
And it's that forward thinking that has allowed Connor and his family from Denver, Colo., to be invited as guests of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. As a guest of honor, Connor met Kennedy Director Bob Cabana, who gave him a mission patch and a bolt from the International Space Station as a token of appreciation from the agency March 15.
"I think it's great for Connor to be so interested in the future of NASA," Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana said. "It shows great initiative on his part to do what he's done."
NASA has inspired generations of children such as Connor, who says he has wanted to be an astronaut since he was three.
Using social media and emails, Connor's friends and family got the ball rolling.
A news broadcast from a Denver TV station helped boost his tally.
Connor obtained more than 22,000 signatures, but needed 100,000 to get recognition from the White House. He's not giving up on his dream to become an astronaut and discover new worlds and asteroids.
"I really want our country to still be the leader in space," Connor said.
"I hope someday I can be an astronaut who goes to Mars."
And at six, Connor is about the right age to be one of the astronauts to go to Mars in the 2030s.
During his visit to the Space Coast, Connor and his family enjoyed Lunch With An Astronaut, featuring space shuttle astronaut Sam Durrance, and encountered the Astronaut Training Experience, with space shuttle astronaut Mike McCulley.
And Durrance and McCulley are not the first astronauts to lend Connor an ear.
Connor shared a recent conversation he had with former NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to step on the moon. Connor said Cernan told him, "Dream the unimaginable."
While at Kennedy, Connor also experienced a space shuttle mission simulation, performed hands-on space exploration activities, and learned about current astronauts and their training programs.
The Johnsons also took part in the Robot Rocket Rally, a three-day festival celebrating the latest in robotic technology from NASA, industry leaders and universities, where Connor had the opportunity to operate a real robot.
Connor and his family also toured the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and got an up-close look at the Orion capsule mock-up, America's new spacecraft for human exploration.
Connor said he thinks he can accomplish his mission because NASA has taught him that any goal can be reached if one takes smalls steps.
Connor proudly gave Cabana $9 to help fund NASA.
"Every penny helps," a delighted Cabana said. " Ultimately, the budget supports what we want to do with continuing International Space Station research and technology which will feed into SLS and Orion, leading to the asteroid initiative and on to Mars," Cabana said. "And it will dictate how we work with commercial partners to launch our astronauts from U.S. soil.
I consider this a down payment to make it happen."
When asked why he wants to be an astronaut, Connor replied, “I want to keep my dreams alive not just for me, but for anyone who wants to be an astronaut. I'm going to need a crew you know," further testimony that he definitely has the "right stuff."