Space walkers inspire students to reach for stars

Selected students at Patch High School and Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School received a play-by-play of the launching and landing of the 2009 Atlantis Space Transportation System-129 mission Sept. 23 by two of its crew members.

U.S. Navy Capt. Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore and retired Navy Capt. Michael J. Foreman, NASA astronauts, visited the schools to share what happened on their mission to the International Space Station in November 2009. At PHS, all eyes were locked on a multimedia presentation as the voice of mission control announced the lift off.

“It’s a pretty wild ride. It’s a four and half million pound vehicle with seven and half million pounds of thrust,  so when those solid rocket boosters light off, you know you’re going somewhere,” Foreman said.

The astronauts visited the schools and others in Europe to inspire students in mathematics and science, according to Joe Holder, the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart school liaison officer.

Wilmore, the pilot of STS-129, described how his interest in things helped him become an astronaut. “My first word, I’m told, … was why,” he said. “I’ve always been a curious type of person [about] how things work, and this launched me into a mind set of areas that were challenging.

“I wanted to fly because it was challenging. Then I chose the Navy because they landed on aircraft carriers. And then test pilot school.” Soon, Wilmore added, he had the credentials to be accepted into NASA.

The astronauts impressed the students with their stories.

“It’s amazing that they can go into space, and come back and share their experience, and give us the push to see that there’s more out there than just high school,” said Alexi Peche, a 10th-grader and student-to-student ambassador.

“Meeting people who actually walked in space … that’s something special for a DODDS school and for kids of deployed parents,” said Walter Fritz, PHS video production teacher. Students at both schools asked questions and swarmed around the pilots to have their photos taken with them.

“I hope we can inspire them to pursue a degree in science and engineering,  maybe even decide to be an astronaut one day,” Foreman said.

Foreman, who retired from the Navy in June 2009, has five space walks under his belt.

He discussed how his interest in the space program began early in his life. “When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, the media had it in the news and on TV a lot,” he said.

 “After reading the original book “We Seven” [written by astronauts selected in 1959 for the Mercury spacecraft] that talked about the backgrounds of all seven, I pursued that dream, and it was worth every effort to get here,” Foreman added.

Kevin Perry, 16, an 11th-grader, was inspired by the visit.

“It’s cool hearing how passionate they were about it and how it affected them,” Perry said. “It makes me want to work harder and make sure I do good in school, so I can do something like that … something that I want to do when I’m older.”

The astronauts concluded the presentation with a video of the space shuttle  set to “Dreams,” by Van Halen,  and a comment by Wilmore.

“If you enjoy learning, life is going to be great,” he said.