Astronauts Spark Interest in Space, Science at (MS)2
By Kerry-Ann Hamilton, media relations manager, Office of University Communications
There were lots of giggles, “wows” and an occasional “gee-whiz” during the presentation by Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) crew members Leland Melvin and Bobby Satcher at the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science (MS)2.
Melvin and Satcher, two African-American astronauts, told the students they could be anything they wanted to be and that the possibilities were endless, especially given the fact that the president is African American, as is NASA’s administrator Charles Bolden.
The 20-minute video presentation by the astronauts showed highlights of the November 2009 mission from lift off to landing. Wayman Griffith, 11, was one of the bright-eyed students taking it all in.
“It was really cool,” Griffith said. “I liked that they showed us how they floated in space … I want to do a zero gravity flight.”
Griffith also wants to be a scientist and a football player, and sees himself as a young Melvin, who went to college on a football scholarship and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1986. When asked by the students about his football career, Melvin shared that he injured his hamstring in training camp, causing his dream of a professional football career to end.
“My hamstring was injured, but my brain was not and that’s why an education is so important,” he said. “So when one door closes, with a strong foundation, another door can open with a good education.”
At the beginning of the talk, when Satcher and Melvin asked how many in the audience wanted to be astronauts, just a sprinkling of hands were raised. After the video presentation narrated by the crew members, the question was asked again and several additional hands shot up in the air.
Jeniqua Pearson was one of those won over. “I think I can do it,” she said. The 12-year-old sixth grader beamed as she recounted the crew exercising and how the astronauts played with M&M’s in space.
During the crew’s 11-day journey in November, they flew a Howard University flag in space for nearly 4.5 million miles. Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., interim provost and chief academic officer, and Hassan Minor Jr., Ph.D., senior vice president for Strategic Planning, Operations, External Affairs and chief technology officer, accepted the flag and a montage featuring the crew on behalf of President Sidney A. Ribeau, Ph.D.
“At (MS)2, it is our goal to provide opportunities for students to engage math and science in both theory and practice,” said Head of School Sue White. “However, it is so beneficial to have students interact one-on-one with stellar scientists like Melvin and Satcher. It is an inspiration to these young people and will impact them for a lifetime.”
The event at Howard was coordinated by the Department of Aerospace Studies, Air Force ROTC in the College of Arts and Sciences and part of a NASA-sponsored week of activities in Washington, D.C., designed to get a future generation of scientists engaged and excited about space, mathematics and engineering.