Last night, Astronauts Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez and Swedish-born Christer Fugelsang of the STS-128 crew visited with Members of Congress and congressional staffers in partnership with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. One big surprise: Jose Hernandez called up to the podium all NASA employees from Headquarters and Goddard performing outreach functions.
For those of you outside the government, outreach encompasses the effort to share information about federal programs with the general public.
Only two of us in the room stepped forward. Awkward. But cool, none-the-less. Here’s why: Jose talked about the importance of reaching out to the community to inspire others to reach for the stars. Frankly, I don’t recall a time when an astronaut took time at an event to thank us for getting out there telling their story.
Jose told the story of how he couldn’t speak English until he was 12 years old. Once he saw Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz selected to travel into space, Jose realized that someone who looked like he did, with hispanic heritage, could be an astronaut. That very day, he decided to study hard in school and make something of himself. He thanked us for going out to work with communities and schools to get out the message of hope. (Don’t quote me on his exact words. It’s all a blur since I was, after all, standing awkwardly in front of a room full of people.)
The funny part, however, is that one of our Legislative Affairs staffers came up to me afterward and explained that Jose planned to call up all the hispanic-heritage NASA folks to thank them for their efforts. Um…I don’t qualify. Oops. Instead he called up outreach NASA folks. I do qualify. Made me giggle…AND a tad embarrassed, at the same time. I’ll bet Jose was surprised to see me come forward. He took it in stride and thanked women engineers for their efforts too. Um…I don’t qualify for that category either. (But I AM a political scientist — to use an old term from the 70’s.)
So we decided, after the fact, that I had a few points in my favor:
- I grew up in Texas,
- studied Spanish in Mexico,
- spoke fluent Spanish at one point (LONG, long ago), AND
- speak Texan fluently to this very day.
Thanks Jose for the recognition of NASA’s outreach efforts, even if I can’t check the other boxes you were looking to highlight.
I simply don’t see a down side to warm fuzzies, no matter how inadvertently they come.
Here are a few iPhone pics from the event. I’ll add some official ones once they come available.