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Center Snapshot: Stuart and Sally Johnson
The Johnson Family. Image above: Stuart and Sally Johnson meet up with their five children on the playground outside of the Reid Conference Center. Deana is sitting in front. From left to right, the children in the back are Andrei (red shirt), Alexei, Svetlana and Anya. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Maggie Stough, student intern

In 2008, after a mission trip to Russia and eight months after their second biological child left for college, Stuart and Sally Johnson adopted three children from Russia.

"We had been hosting two girls from Bellarus every summer for the past six years, and then we went to Russia and saw the older children in the orphanages," explained Sally. "We learned that most of these older children in the orphanages had slim chances of being adopted, and most would grow up and end up in crime."

Said Stuart: "We came to this gradual realization of being called to adopt. In 2008, we adopted three kids from Russia, ages 8, 10, and 10."

With an increase in the size of their family came the need for a decrease in the responsibilities in their careers.

"I had to give up my branch head position prior to adopting kids, because I was also working on a team. I had to choose so I could fit it all in," Sally said.

Stuart and Sally have 30 years at NASA. Stuart does advanced aircraft research, and Sally deals with avionics and air traffic research.

They met on a blind date while studying at North Carolina State University. Both went to work at NASA after co-oping.

Sally worked in computer science, but 15 years ago, she became an aerospace engineer because "that was the field I was working in more," she said.

Their schedules at NASA have afforded them the much-needed flexibility for time to spend with their children.

Favorite activities for the Johnson family are flying in an amphibious aircraft they built from an experimental kit, boating and playing golf. They are also active in their church.

This summer, their family grew when they adopted two more children, ages 7 and 9, from Russia.

"It was only supposed to be one, but then we found out she had a sibling," Stuart said.

Besides their five adopted children, the Johnsons have two older biological children.

"Our biological children are much older and do not live at home, but the adopted children adore them and cherish their visits and attention," Sally said.

They are adoption veterans now, which should make the addition of two children less difficult.

"Every child is different and any adopted child is going to have lingering effects from their past experiences, but you just keep moving forward to give them the best opportunities that you can to have a great life. Progress is often measured in months and years, not days," Sally said.

Added Stuart: "We know some Russian, but communication isn't a huge problem. They come to us having a corrupt value set, so the hardest part would be not only helping them to understand why lying and stealing aren't okay, but also what a family is."

Learning the words, for the children, is not as hard as learning their meanings.

"They understand Œno’ from Day One, but it takes years for honesty and integrity to become ingrained in them," Sally said.

"Through good role models and good experiences, the children learn. Only the youngest currently still struggles academically and behaviorally."

For this family, its definition is continually changing as each new child adds new meaning to Stuart and Sally Johnson’s lives.

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