From Soyuz and Sputnik to Women in Aerospace

Soyuz and Sputnik

I am in Russia and Kazakhstan this week and was fortunate to be able to view the successful launch of Expedition 16 on the Soyuz. This is the first time that I have seen a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and it was spectacular.  

Shana Dale and Rebecca Keiser (Left); Soyuz launch (Right)

Soyuz launch

Mike Griffin was here in Russia last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.  As he so eloquently stated, “I am convinced that the Sputnik accomplishment by the Russian people was responsible for the creation of the American space program that I head today. For without Explorer I, without Yuri Gagarin, there would not, I believe, have been Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, the key programs of the 1960s and early ‘70s in the United States.Without Sputnik, there would have been no Apollo.” The Russian space program continues to do great things and we are fortunate to partner with them now and into the future.

STS-118 Crew Visit

STS 118 CrewLast week, I had the pleasure of introducing the crew of STS-118 in the Headquarters’ auditorium to a packed crowd of employees and family members and more than one hundred students from the surrounding area from first grade to undergraduate (photo: left).  The young students were from Stevens Elementary, Cesar Chavez Public Charter, and the Merit School of Prince William County.  The older students were from Bowie State University, Howard University, George Mason University, and the University of Maryland.  A college student asked Cdr. Kelly what it would take to be a pilot on the shuttle.  After Commander Kelly’s explanation on flight training, he provided an example: 1,500 landings in a shuttle training aircraft (modified Gulfstream II) for one landing.  Crews always garner big crowds which thoroughly enjoy listening to the stories about the mission.  I hope the astronauts had as positive an impact on the students as the students did on us.

The crew had a jam-packed schedule, as usual, and I had the opportunity to see them often during the week, including being with them at the Capitol Hill reception in their honor, the Women in Aerospace awards dinner, and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable event at the National Air and Space Museum with Dr. John Mather.

Women in Aerospace

Lorraine Rodgers with Astronaut Barbara Morgan

On October 2, I presented the International Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace (WIA) to Debra Facktor Lepore.  As I noted during my introduction of Debra, we met many years ago when we were both in our twenties and she taught aerobics.  Talk about a blast from the past. It was a great evening to celebrate the accomplishments of many distinguished women in the aerospace community.  A true highlight was hearing from former Lieutenant Lorraine Rodgers who served as a WASP in the ‘40s.  Truly a remarkable woman and I appreciate her dedication to this country.  Ms. Rodgers presented the Achievement Award to Elizabeth Thorn.  WIA has come a long way over the years and Erin Neal received the award for Outstanding Member.  She has done a superior job in increasing the visibility and significance of this organization.  The event was very well done and to everyone who played a role in putting the evening together, it was a great event.  I would like to extend my sincerest congratulations to all of the award recipients.  (This speech can be downloaded here.)  (Photo:  Ms. Rodgers and Astronaut Barbara Morgan)

A Journey to the Edge of the Universe:
An Evening with Dr. John Mather,
2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Nobel Prize winner Dr. John Mather

On October 3, I had the privilege of attending an event honoring Dr. John Mather, the first NASA employee to earn a Nobel Prize for work performed at a NASA research center (photo: left).  The event, “A Journey to the Edge of the Universe: An Evening with Dr. John Mather, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics,” was held at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and was sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.  I not only had the pleasure of speaking, I had the privilege of accepting a replica of the Nobel Prize awarded to Dr. Mather on behalf of NASA.  We plan to display the replica, with details on his research, in the front lobby for all to see.  

Dr. Mather is not resting.  He will continue to seek answers that will help us understand our place in the universe through his research as the Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way.  We know Dr. Mather will not be our last Nobel winner, since NASA continues to hire the best and the brightest our country has to offer.  We have done so for the last 50 years and we will continue for the next 50 and beyond.  Dr. Mather is a man of brilliance and of humility and we are so proud to have him at NASA.

His speech, “Inspiration, Creativity, and Perseverance,” was very appropriate because this event was also the official kick-off of NASA’s 50th Anniversary year-long celebration. (My speech can be downloaded here.)