#21 Becoming an Astronaut

Well, as close to one as I’ll ever get…

But a girl can dream right?

I know. I know.

My title should have been “best conference ever” or something like that.

My adventure buddy (and fellow science nerd) Rachel and I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2017 Space Exploration Educators Conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Houston we did not have a problem.

Sorry had to.

We flew out of Seattle on Wednesday, leaving behind 28 degree weather and snow and landed in Houston on an 85 degree sunny day.

The eagle has landed.

I just had to one more time.

Actually, let’s be honest. This blog will be exploding with nerdy space references. And I’m really not sorry!

BECAUSE THIS WAS LITERALLY THE MOST AMAZINGLY BRILLIANT EXPERIENCE!

It was a conference but it represented so much more:

Adventure. Exploration. Curiosity.

And Possibility. So much possibility.

I was surrounded by people who believe in possibility. Teachers who believe in the possibility of their students. Astronauts, engineers and educators from all over the world (there were people from 41 states and 9 countries) who believe in the possibility of space exploration like we’ve never done it before.

And all the other Moon marvelling, Mars wishing, Pluto sympathizing, space wanderer wannabes out there.

So I decided I’d pick my top five astronaut adventure experiences to share with you (in order of occurrence not importance):

#1 Meeting and listening to Astronaut Nicole Stott.

She shared her experiences as both an artist and an astronaut. The thing that stood out the most for me was when she said:

“No one ever said ‘you can’t’ to me. My parents.  My teachers. No one.”

So she did.

She became an engineer and a NASA astronaut because she could.

It was a great reminder to let kids dream and think outside the box. In a world driven by standards and the next big test, we squash the belief that kids can grow up and be whatever they want to be.

While it may not always come true, why not let them believe in the possibility?

Isn’t that what moves us to set goals and work hard to achieve them anyway?

#2 Dive session.

So when a person becomes part of the elite and is accepted into the next class of astronauts, they undergo extensive training simulations. Many of them underwater as that is the closest way on Earth to represent microgravity. They didn’t let us scuba dive at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (insert sad face), but we did hop on a bus and head to an indoor pool where they take the astronauts to check out their skills.

Hey guys, I used scuba gear in a pool where astronauts might have peed…jealous yet?

We sorta kinda got in trouble during the session. As the overly enthusiastic adventure seekers that we are, Rachel and I jumped in line first to get our gear.

Then we waited oh so patiently for the next set of directions until we could wait no longer and decided to sneak into the next lane and see how far we could swim under water.

I mean it is a pool…so I guess we weren’t all that sneaky. Anyway, the instructors scolded us because we didn’t follow directions. Oops.

Teachers are the worst students.

After we passed our tests, we were able to head to the deep end and participate in a challenge to “construct the ISS”. Our International Space Station consisted of pvc pipe that we had to build into a cube that we could swim through. After swimming through, we swam to a rock wall and used a grabber claw to pick up rocks and move them to a new location.

We were underwater for about 20 minutes and it was not easy. The hardest part was staying down and not floating back up to the surface.

Rachel and I had a blast. Blast…get it! Bahahaha!

#3 Meeting and chatting with Nujoud.

She works for NASA as the mission planning lead for the Orion mission (yes, that’s the next manned spacecraft that will return to the moon and eventually Mars). She Skyped with all of Rachel’s 6th graders in September about her career at NASA and when she found out we would be in Houston, asked if we’d like to meet for drinks.

Umm yes. Is that even a question?

We bombarded her with questions about her work, her family, and her life experiences.

She definitely has a pretty rad job. I mean the Orion missions are the future of space travel and the person in charge is talking to little old me.

Turns out she is also one of the coolest, most down to earth, inspiring women I’ve had the privilege of meeting.

She balances career and being a mom and wife like the best of them. In fact, she picked us up after she put her kids to bed. And the next morning flew to Paris to talk Orion with the European Space Agency.

Yeah, I know. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor too!

#4 Building a lunar habitat.

In “space suits”. This was so cool. And definitely a lesson that Rachel and I will be using with our students. In fact, at my school we’ve been wanting a greenhouse for our STEM program, but we don’t have the funding.

Anyway, why wait around when the kids can design, plan and build one with PVC pipe and plastic?!?! We will be looking for donations of materials, so if you know anyone (wink, wink)…

There were teams for designing the structure, energy production, atmosphere and communication and food production. Our team had to design an aquaponics system.

It was fun being the student. It gives such great insight into what we expect of them in the classroom.

5. Everything else.

Ha! Did you think that I would be able to narrow that down to a top 5? Yeah right. Everything was amazing! From all the sessions and tours and meeting so many awesome people to the banquet, touching moon rocks, exploring the space center after dark and so much more.

We learned. We played. We were inspired and motivated. Our passion for teaching and believing in possibility burns even brighter.

Thanks Rach for making this adventure come true. You are a rock star travel partner and adventure buddy!

I love that even when I pick a hotel that is no where near anything, you don’t mind walking 1.5 miles each way to the conference.

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…”

Too much? Can’t help it…I just keep cracking myself up!

And thanks for helping me with my little airplane meltdown. Turns out I wouldn’t make a very good astronaut after all. No window at the window seat gave me a little panic. There may have been a few tears and then a nice flight attendant who gave me a DVD player to distract myself. You know like a little kid…

Until next time,

Adventure awaits…

4 thoughts on “#21 Becoming an Astronaut

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