August 31, 2005

Discovery Astronauts Encourage Children

NEW YORK -- They were inspired by the astronauts who came before them, and now it was their turn to be inspirations. Three members of the space shuttle Discovery crew encouraged a rapt audience of children and adults to follow their passions, and work at what they loved.

"If you have a passion, find what your passion is," said Charles Camarda, a Queens native who made his first foray into space on Discovery. "When I go into work, I feel like I'm going to play because I love it so much."

Camarda was joined Tuesday by Discovery's commander, Eileen Collins, the first woman to ever pilot a shuttle, and astronaut Stephen Robinson, who performed the only in-orbit shuttle repair when he removed some protruding ceramic-fabric gap filler from the shuttle's thermal tiles. They spoke at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History.

Arriving in the hall to the soundtrack of "Mission: Impossible" and a standing ovation, the blue-suited astronauts answered questions ranging from their specific tasks on the mission to how they knew they wanted to be astronauts.

Robinson was asked about his in-orbit repair effort, and the preparations for it. He said that while they didn't prepare for that task specifically, the astronauts did do a lot of training before lift-off for scenarios they would possibly encounter.

"We practiced lots and lots of tasks, we were prepared to do a lot things that we'd never done before, and that theory was sort of tested on this, and that's sort of the whole idea of going into space," Robinson said. "You don't really know what your challenges are going to be ahead of time, so you practice everything you can think of."

Collins offered tips for those students looking to be astronauts, telling them to dive into math and science and do well in school, get involved in team-building activities, and to take care of themselves physically.

She also said going into space made her see how beautiful Earth is. "After going up into space and seeing it, you really want to take care of it," she said.

Having a chance to see the astronauts up close is a wonderful thing for the students, said Patrick Hogan, a teacher at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, which Camarda attended.

"Kids need good heroes, they need good role models and these guys and these young women certainly are inspirational," he said.


On the Net:

American Museum of Natural History: http://www.amnh.org/