“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” ― President John F. Kennedy
By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of visiting the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
My dad drove us from Illinois to Florida to escape the winter snow and to visit the Kennedy Space Center.
We also visited Disney World in Orlando.
But to my two older brothers, and me the stop at the Kennedy Space Center far surpassed Disney World because it was real and we grew up during a time when the U.S. focused on NASA, astronauts and innovation.
At the center, we learned about space missions, astronauts, rockets, spacecraft and spacesuits and that left us awestruck. We thought astronauts were some of the most accomplished men on earth.
Today marks the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, which carried the first astronauts into space to walk on the moon. I was too young to remember that event, but my dad made sure we understood the importance of the space program and NASA.
During the 1970s, NASA ended the Apollo program and they also launched the Skylab space station. And during the late ‘70s, NASA began to ramp up for the Space Shuttle program.
Going to NASA, I felt like I was visiting ground zero for innovation in the United States.
That feeling has never left me.
Several years later during my sophomore year at the University of Illinois, my mom moved from Illinois to Clear Lake, Texas, near the NASA Johnson Space Center. During visits home, I also made trips to the center, which was home to Mission Control.
After graduating, I worked as a reporter in Texas for a while and then I ended up back in Florida. And I went back to the Kennedy Space Center several times. But this time, my job allowed me to meet some astronauts including Astronaut Ken Cockrell, who flew with the Discovery crew and legendary Astronaut Buzz Aldrin who piloted Apollo 11 and walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969.
During a Knight Center Fellowship at the University of Maryland, our group also got to visit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
But the most fun I ever had was taking my son, Teddy at six years old, with my husband Charlie, to Kennedy Space Center. Our son got to meet an astronaut and visit the rocket garden and watch science demonstrations. I wanted him to be as excited about NASA and space as I was as a kid. And it worked. Today, at age 14, he loves everything about space and he knows quite a bit more about it than me.
In fact, last year, Teddy and I had the privilege of visiting the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio for the 50th anniversary of Astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around the earth in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. We were part of a NASA Tweetup that got to tour the facility and attend a ceremony honoring Glenn and then we got to meet him and ask him questions afterward. Teddy asked him his opinion on space flights for tourists. Glenn answered that he didn’t think the engine thrusters had yet been perfected for casual space travel, but that eventually that problem would be solved. He also said that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science and children needed to be encouraged to pursue those fields. He worried that the end of NASA’s shuttle program would hamper the U.S.’s competitiveness in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, known as STEM, fields.
As NASA has downsized, private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX have emerged to fill the void left when the shuttle program shut down in 2011. NASA has a contract with SpaceX to supply the International Space Station.
This week I am attending a NASA Social event Wednesday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston along with 29 others from around the country. We will visit Mission Control and learn about astronaut training and the International Space Station which NASA calls “the gateway to the rest of the universe, enabling important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase our understanding of how humans can safely work, live and thrive in space for long periods.”
Later this week, I will report back on ground zero for innovation at the Johnson Space Center.