Last Friday afternoon, fourth grade students at Jefferson Elementary School got a visit from NASA astronaut Colonel Douglas Wheelock, who rehashed his space adventures and encouraged the children to work hard to achieve their goals.
Wheelock works at the International Space Station as a Russian Liaison. He has accumulated more than 178 days in space and has conducted six spacewalks totaling over 43 hours. His experience outside the space station includes four contingency spacewalks to repair a torn solar array and replace a failed ammonia pump module.
“To reach a dream in life, you need goals and perseverance,” he told the students. “Goal setting alone will not accomplish your goals, perseverance will.”
To illustrate his point, Wheelock used a tennis ball and a basketball.
“This tennis ball is the goal setting,” he said. “This basketball is your hard work and determination. Hitting the ceiling is reaching your dream.”
Wheelock dropped the tennis ball to the floor and explained that just having a goal isn’t enough to attain your ambition. Then he dropped the tennis ball on top of the basketball, bounding it to the ceiling.
“Without perseverance, your goal will never make it there,” he said.
Determination has served Wheelock well. Four years ago, he responded to an emergency shutdown of half of the International Space Station’s external cooling system and his efforts restored the station’s critical cooling system to full function. For his work, he was presented the American Red Cross 2010 Hero in Space Award, and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale 2010 Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal Award.
“We are so excited to incorporate this special experience into the fourth grade STEM program,” Jefferson Principal Kara Heinrich said. “Opportunities like these that go beyond the classroom not only enhance STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] exploration and appreciation, but give students an experience they will carry with them for a lifetime and one which hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in these fields.”
The fourth graders watched in awe as Wheelock showed them a video of his time in space. When the time came for questions, hands popped up all over the packed room. Naturally, there was a question about astronaut food.
Wheelock brought out bags of Meals, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as the MRE, that sustained he and his team in space. The kids got to sample the meals and none was particularly impressed.
NASA has been very generous to South Bay schools this year. On February 19, Palos Verdes High School welcomed NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Steve Collins. Their visit was organized by NASA as a nod to the high school’s robotics program and numerous STEM projects. NASA’s Astronaut Appearance Office receives thousands of requests for visits every year and very few of these requests can be accommodated due to the support of the International Space Station and other NASA programs.