NASA Education Honors Military Families

Since early April, NASA’s Office of Education had been looking forward to the launch of two exceptional missions: space shuttle Endeavour on its last flight, STS-134, and NASA’s new effort to support America’s military families. Although a hardware issue on April 29 delayed Endeavour’s final journey to the International Space Station, the Pre-Launch Education Summit and Military Families events, held over the course of three days in Florida, were a resounding success.

On April 12, first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden announced a new campaign called Joining Forces, a program designed for us to show support as a nation for the military families who steadfastly support us through their service and sacrifice.  They asked federal agencies to consider ways to become involved in Joining Forces and NASA found a great way to respond.

For the past several years, we have hosted education forums concurrent with shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center to engage leaders from both the exploration and education sectors.  NASA decided that making outreach to military families the focus of one of our final Pre-Launch Education Summits would be an excellent way to show our commitment to Joining Forces.

I had planned to take my blog audience on a journey through our three-day adventure, but I received a blog from 13-year-old Sophie Roth-Douquet that really touched me.  Sophie and her family were among our military guests in Florida that weekend; today, I am making her my first-ever guest blogger.  I know you will enjoy Sophie’s words!

by Sophie Roth-Douquet, 13 years old, MCRD Parris Island
This past week, my family went to a shuttle launch to see the shuttle Endeavor take off. Did we see it? The answer, no.

I’m getting ahead of myself, let me go back to the previous day at the Peabody hotel in Orlando, Florida.  We were there because NASA was running a special program for military families, as part of a bigger program that the President has – the President told all the parts of government to do something for military families – this is what NASA was doing, hosting us for the space shuttle launch.  I think it’s really awesome.  My family was walking down the hall to a large foyer where NASA activities would be occurring for military families when we ran into – Charles Bolden the head of NASA who my dad had worked for when I was little and Mr. Bolden was a general in the Marine Corps.  We were greeted warmly. Unfortunately the reunion had to be brief for Mr. Bolden is a busy man.  His grandchildren are military kids just like me and my brother.

After this we were ushered into a large room and Astronaut Michael Foreman welcomed us to the military family activities that had been arranged to teach us about the launch we would see the next day.  

After this we split into two groups – elementary school-aged students and middle and high school-aged students.  The elementary school-aged students crafted a moon buggy out of candy, a candy rocket, a straw rocket, and a Hubble Space Telescope made out of a toilet paper roll.  This was a big hit with my brother.  The middle and high school students made a grapple fixture out of two Styrofoam cups, string, and tape that mimicked the end effectors on the robotic arm used on the space shuttle work.  Next we made a water cooling system out of half of a tube sock, a tube, and scissors to mimic how the astronauts kept themselves cool in space.  Last we experienced how in space an astronaut’s leg gets thinner by measuring our legs, then not using our legs for ten minutes, then measuring them again. It was remarkable! My leg got thinner by a full inch!  I though these activities were great! At times they could be a bit childish, but there were young kids there, and it was all made better by the CANDY.   

A trio of future rocket scientists show Administrator Bolden their designs.

After a small break where my family took a plunge in the pool to cool off, we were given a heartfelt talk by some Astronauts and their wives about the Astronaut’s space trips (deployments) and how military families and astronaut families aren’t so different.  After the talk, I felt that if I ever met one of the astronauts talked about, I wouldn’t see them as an idol, but as a real person, someone who is human.

As a closing to a day of fun, we trained like an astronaut!  We did crunches and planks like astronauts do so that they can do everything they need to do in space.  

Exhausted from a day of activity, I ate dinner and went to bed dreaming of the time I would have at the launch the next day.  

We boarded a bus in the morning that would take us to the shuttle launch. During the bus ride, which was about 2 hours, we watched a little movie about what the shuttle launch would be like, and about past shuttle launches. Whenever they showed a shuttle going into space, I would imagine the shuttle I would soon see go out into space in person, and would think about how lucky I was to be seeing this sight.  This was going to be the second to last shuttle to go into space EVER, and I was going to get to see it.

With the shuttle Endeavor on its launch pad just coming into view, the bus was stopped, and the announcement made.  We weren’t going to go to the shuttle launch after all.

I felt angry, sad, frustrated and let down all at the same time.  How could this happen? We were right there!  We were ready!  I felt my emotions bubbling, threatening to overflow.  

Then the reason for the cancellation was announced.  There was a leak in the auxiliary power unit of the shuttle.  If they had gone, the shuttle might have even exploded like the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Everyone could have died.  If the mission had gone on as planned, and something had happened to the Endeavor, the U.S. might have lost some of its reputation too.

On the other hand, by delaying the launch, delaying the launch disappointed a ton of people, even the president.

After looking at both sides, I saw the reason for what they did.  Being a military kid, I know you can’t always count on the things you plan.  Like my Dad getting deployed with a week’s notice, or thinking you know when you are going to move, and having that changed at the last minute.  Things don’t always work out the way we want them too, but usually it’s because we have to do something more important.  It’s disappointing when my dad misses my birthday, for example, but I know it’s for what my mom calls the greater good.  This Space Shuttle cancellation was like that too.  It was disappointing, but it was for the greater good. 

After expressing my feelings to my dad, he told me, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So we did.  We only got a half-day at Disney World due to our late start, but we had a blast!  WE got to go on every ride we wanted and more! Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, we did it all.

After a day full of sorrow and joy, anger and glee, I thought about what had happened, how the shuttle had been canceled, and I thought, you can’t always count on your plans, but “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Note:  Endeavour’s flight has been rescheduled for Monday, May 16, at 8:56 a.m. EDT.  Tune into to watch!