On Tuesday morning, the Urban Zen Foundation and the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN) created an educational, experiential NASA event for local school children that was, literally, out of this world.
The morning began on a lively beat. Children were welcomed into a vibrant environment made even more energetic by the talents of DJ Scientific — AKA Rocket Scientist Mark A. Branch. When asked how he tackles such diverse professional interests, Branch said, “It’s what I tell the kids, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to! Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t.’” It was a remark that captured the spirit of the event and set the tone for a very inspired morning.
By 9:30 AM, the children grabbed oversized pillows and gathered around tables named after famed female NASA astronauts. The program launched into action with an introduction from Leland D. Melvin, an astronaut who has traveled to space twice on Shuttle Atlantis and now runs NASA’s education programming. Melvin greeted the kids with an invigorating speech saying, “Our history is our strength and our energy fuels the future.”
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver also took the stage to chat with the kids about NASA and her passion for her job. She encouraged the children to consider their own future career paths saying, “NASA is a wonderful, wonderful place that is making a difference…we believe that what we do and what we learn will benefit the future of mankind. We can discover things in space that we can’t here on earth, we can do research to make our lives better.”
In a truly honoring moment, Astronaut Leland presented the Urban Zen Foundation and FFAWN with beautiful mementos – American flags that were flown on Shuttle Atlantis during his voyage to space. The presentation was beyond touching and served as a fitting segway to the live downlink conversation with Astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman.
At 10:14 AM the projections cut, live, to Houston. The room became completely silent, and the children got ready to speak to Astronaut Cady in outer space. At 10:15 AM, Astronaut Cady was live and ready for a rambunctious Q & A with an audience of almost three hundred students. The children satiated their curiosity about galactic life by asking questions like: What is your job in space? How do you dispose of trash on the space station? And, What is your normal daily routine in outer space?
Stephanie, a student from the New York Women’s Academy of Excellence, asked Astronaut Cady, “Have you ever been discouraged? And, if so, what encouraged you to keep moving forward?”
Astronaut Cady answered, “I like this question. I am a real person that has made the best decisions that I could in the moment I was in… I think if you are really doing your best that is all anyone can ask of you. Some days I don’t do my best and, then, I wake up the next day and ask myself, ‘How can I do better?’”
Another student asked, “What was the most exciting experience you’ve had as an astronaut?”
Cady replied enthusiastically, “The fact that I am living up in space! I wake up every day saying, ‘Wow, I am still here.’ You know, I miss being home, but it is fascinating to live in space and there are cool science experiments that I get to do everyday. This could be in your future, too.”
Tony, a young student from Harlem Children’s Zone asked the final question, “How do you entertain yourself in outer space?”
Cady answered by saying, “It is so much fun up here! We invent new games…we play pool in three dimensions. Without gravity, it’s pretty interesting up here and it’s always fun!”
Following the earth-to-space question and answer period, the children broke into small groups to have positive, reinforcing conversations with Trailblazers – a group of adult leaders who are living with purpose and actively changing the world. With each Trailblazer, the children had opportunities to discuss important topics like: youth, personality, motivation and joy.
After enjoying nutritious boxed lunches donated by New York City Housing Authority, the kids gathered together with their peers and teachers to head back to their classrooms. It was absolutely captivating to see the children linking arms with their friends while they chatted about the amazing things they just saw, the people they just met, the conversations they just had. It was, truly, a transformative Tuesday morning that taught the children that, for them, the sky is not the limit—for them, their futures are limitless.
To hear more from Astronaut Cady, check out her recent talk at TED
PHOTO CREDIT: George Goss
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