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Ascension Academy Student Visits NASA

Eric (Grade 10 / Ascension Academy) Originally published May 2005

When I began my sophomore year at Ascension Academy, one of my goals was to be an astronaut. I shared this goal with Ascension Academy Director, Dorwatha Woods. She and I had several conversations and she observed my work ethic and academic skills during the fall term. Ms. Woods wants to help students achieve academic success and realize their goals. She brought my dream to benefactors whom she knew shared her passion for helping young people. That is how I got to see the astronaut training facilities at NASA.

Ms. Woods and I left Minneapolis on Wednesday, February 23, 2005 for Houston, Texas. My interest in the recent Mars missions and what I thought was the life of an astronaut had me excited to tour NASA. At the Houston facility, Ms. Woods and I were given the “Level 9” tour. This tour takes several hours and visits areas of NASA that are usually off limits to civilians. For instance, we saw the current mission control center and the original control center used during the 1970s. We also visited a life-size replica of the International Space Station. But, the highlight of the tour was actually watching astronauts during some of their training experiences in the pool.

The astronaut training pool is 40 feet deep. I witnessed some very arduous training exercises taking place there. All the training is difficult and sustained. Astronauts may train for many years and never get a space mission at all. Throughout the tour, I observed the astronaut’s life as anything but glamorous. They work hard, they must stay in excellent physical and mental shape in order to remain in the astronaut program, and their future in space is uncertain. Now, I am not so sure I want to be an astronaut.

If you are thinking about becoming an astronaut, here is some advice I learned at NASA. The space missions these days are of an intense scientific nature. The more varied your background is, especially in the sciences, the better your chances are of actually flying a mission (once you pass all the training). For example, a medical doctor who also has extensive experience in a particular biological or chemical specialty field has a higher “profile” at NASA than someone who has only one of those experiential backgrounds. Today’s missions are more about the kind of science that is done once an astronaut reaches the destination, than it is about getting to a place in space. Astronauts work hard! I have a few other goals I would like to check out before I graduate from high school.

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