NASA astronaut urges children to shoot for the stars
First Charles County “Space in the Community” event draws more than 200
The wonders of space exploration and technology were on display for more than 200 community members Wednesday at the James E. Richmond Science Center.
The science center served as host to “Space in the Community,” a community education initiative of the nonprofit Space Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit that provides educational opportunities related to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
“The purpose of the program is to get communities involved in STEM education in the local areas in the communities, get them to understand why space is important to their way of life and get them to see why STEM is important to their communities,” said Bryan DeBates, director of education for the Space Foundation.
The Space Foundation has provided professional development courses to Charles County Public Schools for 10 years, DeBates said.
The Space Foundation had also hosted an annual luncheon for teachers, school officials and community leaders, but this year they decided to do something different, said Kimberly Hill, CCPS superintendent.
“It was time to look into bringing the community in to a phenomenal resource, the James E. Richmond Science Center. This facility is one-ofa-kind on the East Coast, in a public school, and so we wanted the community to see what we have,” Hill said.
Wednesday evening’s event was limited to 250 participants, and the slots filled up fast, said Monique Wilson, director of the science center.
“We sent the email at 8:40 [a.m.] on a Monday, and it was full by that Wednesday,” Wilson said.
Free dinner and a shuttle bus were provided to help make the event more accessible for families, Wilson said.
Hands-on robotics demonstrations, moon rover simulations, drawing activities and more were available to community members attending the event.
Storyteller Geraldine Buckley recounted tales from ancient Greece, Africa, Japan and American Indian lore about the formation of the heavens and the stars, beneath the science center’s Digital Dome Classroom, showing images of the night sky.
“They started to tell stories about the things around them, particularly the sky. They saw the sky change, it changed with the different seasons, but some parts didn’t, and they wanted to make sense of it, so they started to tell stories, people from all over the world told stories,” Buckley said.
The highlight of the evening was a talk by NASA astronaut Anna Fisher, the oldest active American astronaut.
Fisher, who studied to be a physician, was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, one of the first six female candidates.
“When I was 12 years old, I had my first thought of becoming an astronaut, but I didn’t think it was a realistic goal, and so many years later, I found out about the selection of the first astronauts for the space shuttle, I applied the day before the deadline,” Fisher said. “In August of ‘77, I found myself interviewing for the most wonderful job I could ever dream of having.”
In 1983, she was selected for her first mission, two weeks before the birth of her daughter.
“So I was a new mom and a new astronaut,” Fisher said.
In 1984, Fisher became the first “mother in space” as part of the STS51-A mission onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
“Being in space is just so much fun,” Fisher said. “It was an amazing, amazing experience.”
“Once you go up there you realize what a fragile, wonderful planet we have, and you look out into the vast darkness of the rest of the universe, it’s pretty sobering,” Fisher added.
The Discovery is now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
“I get to go visit it when I come to visit the area,” Fisher said.
Fisher, as a management astronaut, is currently working on the Orion Project, a NASA crewed vehicle designed to take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit.
“What I hope we’re going to do is go back to the Moon and learn how to live in space, how to grow your own food, these sensible things, before you try to go to Mars, but we’ll see what the politicians decide. But what we ultimately want to do is go to Mars,” Fisher said.
Fisher told the younger members of her audience who were interested in becoming astronauts that they could achieve their dreams.
“With the way technology is changing so fast, I can’t imagine the things you’re going to get to see and experience in your lifetimes, you’re living in wonderful times. Work hard in high school and follow your dreams,” Fisher said.
Wilson said the event was a great way to showcase what the Richmond Science Center has to offer.
“I felt it was important to have a free activity here at the start of the school year, so that parents know we’re here, and the sort of enrichment activities we can offer,” Wilson said.
NASA astronaut Anna Fisher signs autographs during the “Space in the Community” event at the James E. Richmond Science Center Wednesday night.
Demonstration of a 3-D printer during the “Space in the Community” event at the James E. Richmond Science Center Wednesday night.
NASA Astronaut Anna Fisher speaks with students and other community members during the “Space in the Community” event at the James E. Richmond Science Center Wednesday night.