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NASA Engineer Helps Train Puppy for Future Leadership Role

It's not really a dog-eat-dog world at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., but one of the facility's latest workers is of the canine persuasion.

Aries, a golden retriever puppy, goes to work every day as part of the Leader Dogs for the Blind program. Her mentor is structural engineer Evan J. Horowitz.

Aries prowls the NASA hallways in search of people to meetImage to Right: See Aries on the prowl! Streaming QuickTime
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"As a boy, back before there was cable TV, I was watching the Disney Sunday night movie," said Horowitz. "They had a movie about a boy who was a 4H club member, I think, raising one of these dogs. The idea just always stuck."

These days the engineer works on big ideas -- the rocket and capsule project that will take astronauts back to the moon -- but he used to be in charge of structural engineering for a research aircraft known as ARIES for Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System.

That's how he came up with a name for his canine student.

Aries is Horowitz's third Leader Dog puppy, but his first since coming to NASA Langley two years ago. He put his name on a waiting list for a female golden retriever at the Rochester, Mich., based Leader Dogs for the Blind more than 18 months ago.

Aries, a leader dog for the blind in training at NASAImage to Left: A very young Aries mugs for the camera in Horowitz's office. Credit: NASA/Jeff Caplan

During that time he made sure that he could bring a puppy to work at a government aerospace research center.

"It took a little bit of diligence to get through to all the right people, especially trying to figure out who all the right people were," said Horowitz. "I contacted the office of safety, security, questioned legal and of course the management and my co-workers to make sure they were okay with a puppy in the office."

The goal of Aries' training at NASA is not to turn her into a rocket scientist, but a well-socialized dog with knowledge of basic commands.

"Our primary responsibility is to socialize them, make them a good people dog, just get them out and about amongst people with all the distractions," said her trainer. "Hopefully people will understand that when she's wearing the blue bandanna she's 'working' -- the same as wearing the guide harness -- so don't try to play with her."

Aries, a leader dog for the blind in training at NASAImage to Right: Aries dons her NASA hard hat when she joins Horowitz on the job site. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Horowitz says he's supposed to walk around with the puppy as if she wasn't there, but that's not easy to do considering the attention Aries attracts. "She's adorable. She's a lot of love. She's a lot of fun," added Horowitz. "She gets me to meet a lot of people because she's just a magnet for socializing."

His NASA co-workers have responded well to Aries being at work. He says they're helping with training and have learned to respect the blue bandanna. They have even volunteered to look after her if Horowitz has to go out of town. Eventually Aries will leave town herself. After about a year she will return to Michigan to complete her training as a Leader Dog and then go on to her permanent home.

Horowitz says he's already prepared himself for that. "I have her as a little pup and I'm going to raise her to be a young adult," he said. "At that point I will have to give her away to go on to a life of her own, a new bigger, better, very purposeful life."

Kathy Barnstorff
NASA Langley Research Center