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  Photographs by Justin D. Knight/University Communications

Astronauts Spark Interest in Space, Science at Howard University Middle School

WASHINGTON (January 12, 2010) – 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 in northwest Washington.

Melvin and Satcher, two African-American astronauts, told the students they could be anything they wanted to be. “With an African-American as president and another as the administrator for NASA, there is no question that you can be anything you want to be.”

The 20-minute video presentation showed highlights of the November 2009 mission from lift off to landing. Wayman Griffith, 11, was one of the bright-eyed (MS)2 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. He sees himself as a young Melvin who went to college on a football scholarship and was drafted for the Detroit Lions in 1986. When asked by the students about his football career, he shared that he pulled his hamstring in training camp and his dream of a professional football career was over.

“My hamstring was injured, but my brain was not and that’s why an education is so important,” Melvin 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, several additional hands shot 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. University officers 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.

“At (MS)2 , it is our goal to provide student 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 to be able to 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 University coordinated by the Department of Aerospace Studies, Air Force ROTC in the College of Arts and Sciences and was part of a NASA-sponsored week of activities in Washington designed to get a future generation of scientists engaged and excited about space, mathematics and engineering. After the session, students like Theophilous Washington, 13, queued to ask more questions.

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