Tag Archives: education

Flat Stanley: Out of this World Tour

Guest Post by Stanley Lambchop

Hi! My name is Flat Stanley. I belong to Nathan Woolverton, Beth Beck’s adorable nephew. Nathan’s class has an assignment to send me on an adventure. I’ve always wanted to go to space, so I asked if Nathan’s aunt Beth would take me to work with her. She works at NASA, you know. So, Nathan’s mom popped me into a mailer and here I am. I’m flat, you see, so I don’t cost much in postage to get from Texas to DC.

"Flat Stanley" book by Jeff Brown, 1964

"Flat Stanley" book by Jeff Brown, 1964

Beth told me you might not know who I am. Really? Wow. I guess I better tell you a little about myself. I was born in 1964. My real name is Stanley Lambchop. My younger brother is Arthur. My dad gave me a bulletin board that fell on my bed, squashing me flat. Hey. Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I kinda like it. I’ll never grow bigger or older than I am now. How cool is that?!? AND, I can slip inside an envelop, fax or email to go ANYwhere I want. I’m getting to see much of the world.

But Nathan is special. He sent me on an out-of-this-world adventure. I dare you to top this! I’ve been sending Nathan email pics of my adventure. I have to write a journal too, so Beth thought a guest blogpost would let all of you enjoy my incredible experience. Now my class journal can be a virtual learning tool. Note: In case you’re wondering, I’m dictating my comments to Beth. I haven’t quite mastered typing on a keyboard with my flat fingers.

Fellow Earthings, prepare to get VERY jealous.

First of all, you should know that the weather in DC is very cold, icy and snowy in the winter. But while I’ve been up here, Nathan and his class have seen two snowstorms. Quite amazing — since he lives in warm sunny Texas. We had to shovel our way out before Beth and I could drive to work. We were both sweating inside our snow clothes. It’s hard work!

Flat Stanley in DC snow

Washington DC: I helped shovel snow.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management allowed federal government workers to telework or take vacation time off — just to keep thousands of drivers off the snowy roads. Beth had a meeting, so we drove in to work together. You know NASA is a government agency, right?

Here I am at NASA!

Flat Stanley Visits NASA

Here I am at NASA! Woot!

I came to visit on an important day, NASA’s Day of Remembrance, when NASA honors fallen heroes who’ve given their lives to the cause of exploration.

Flat Stanley: NASA Day of Remembrance

I learned about NASA's Day of Remembrance.

I toured the building. I found astronaut Deke Slayton’s spacesuit right down the hall from where Beth works. Deke was was one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, selected in 1959 (before I was born). He was the only member of the Mercury Seven not to fly. He was grounded because of a problem with his heart, but he ended up flying in space in 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz test Project — the first time the U.S and Soviet Union worked together in space.

Astronaut Deke Slayton's spacesuit.

Here I am with Astronaut Deke Slayton's spacesuit.

I met Robonaut Centaur. Pretty cool dude. He rolls around on a rover base. He’ll help astronauts who are working on the surface of another planet. He’s kin to Robonaut 2, robo-humanoid STS-133 crewmember launching to Space Station on February 24.

Flat Stanley meets Robonaut Centaur

I met Robonaut Centaur, cousin to STS-133 Robonaut2.

Here I am hangin’ with my new peeps, the RoboTwins: Robonaut 2 and Robonaut 2. They were duking it out over who gets to launch onboard STS-133 Space Shuttle Discovery on one of the final missions in the Shuttle program, scheduled for February 24.

Flat Stanley with his peeps: Robonaut 2 Twins

Hangin with my peeps: RoboTwins

I inspected a Space Shuttle up close and personal. It’s really high way up at the top. Check it out!

Flat Stanley's Tank Top View

Here's my Tank Top View. Original photo by NASA's Bill Ingals.

Here’s what a bird would see when a Space Shuttle launches. Pretty amazing, don’t you think? I can’t believe we’ll only have three more launches EVER in the history of mankind.

Flat Stanley sees a Space Shuttle launch

Only three more Space Shuttle launches EVer!

The only way off this planet, until we come up with another solution, is by rocket propulsion. “Beam me up, Scotty” only works on TV and in movies, sadly. Hopefully some of you out there will come up with a cool new mode of transportation, like dream transport or spacial folding techniques. (I just made those up, but who can predict what breakthrough might happen in the future.)

Once we get off the planet, though, we can see sights like these. Come along for the rocket ride.

Flat Stanley visits International Space Station

Isn't Space Station amazing?

The International Space Station orbits 220 miles over Earth, circling the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of 17,500 mph with a international crew of six.

Flat Stanley tours Space Station

Another view of Space Station.

Flat Stanley on Top of the World

Flat Stanley on Top of the World

Flat Stanley on the Moon: Nope. No cheese!

Moon tour: Nope. No cheese!

Flat Stanley scorched by Sun

Sun: Man, this place is HOT!

Flat Stanley: Mars

Mars, the Red Planet. Humans could live here in the future.

When humans travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they need protection from the harsh environment of space. Either a spaceship or spacesuit — to provide air, cooling and heating, and other essentials. Our atmosphere provides a radiation shield, but once we go further out, we need to provide protection. On the planet’s surface, whether Moon or Mars, we’ll need a hardshelled suit, like the one I tried on. But I don’t think it fits. Do you?

Flat Stanley tries on Mars suit

I'm trying on the Mars suit. It's a bit big.

Maybe someday we’ll have bio-shields or exo-skins that protect us without a spacesuit. Maybe Nathan and his classmates will come up with a technology breakthrough that NASA can use.

Highlight of my visit: I met a real live astronaut! Really. I promise. Not only is Leland Melvin a spaceman, he’s also the Chief of Education at NASA. He really likes kids. You can tell. He stopped a meeting to pose for a picture with me. Cool dude!

Flat Stanley meets astronaut Leland Melvin

Here I am with astronaut Leland Melvin!

Leland spent over 565 hours in space during two Space Shuttle missions: STS-122 in 2008 and STS-129 in 2009. He also played football in the NFL with the Detroit Lions in 1986, as well as the Dallas Cowboys and Toronto Argonauts, until injuries kept him off the field. Good thing for NASA. Don’t you think?

Maybe someday I’ll go live on Mars. I don’t weigh much. I don’t eat anything. I don’t need radiation protection, or even a spacesuit, for that matter. If Robonaut can be part of a space crew, I think a flat boy should have the chance. Leland and I are buds now. Maybe he can put in a good word for me. Hmmm.

I hope you liked my space adventure. I learned alot about NASA. I hope you did too.

Oh, and you can Facebook me, if you want. I have my own page. But for now, I need to get back to Nathan’s class. Time for me to get into the mailer, so Beth can get me to the post office. When I get back to Texas, I’m going to make sure Nathan asks his mom to let me watch live views from Space Station on the NASA TV channel on the web. You can too.

Flat Stanley & NASA's Alien

NASA discovered alien life after all!

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Filed under federal government, NASA, space

Space Invaders in Nation’s Capitol

Crazy week at NASA. Space Shuttle Discovery completed her cross-country piggy-back ride from California back to Florida. We announced the discovery of water on the Moon…and more on Mars. The 2009 Astronaut Class and the STS-127 crew came to visit NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. We hosted a Tweet-up with Space Tweeps and the STS-127 crew. (Thanks all you Space Tweeps who joined us!)

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

Since I work human spaceflight issues, I love having our astronauts come up to DC. So, I’ll share a few stories with you from this week.

Jules Verne in Orbit:

Veteran Astronaut Dave Wolf talked about his time with the Russians on Mir vs. time on Shuttle and Station. He described Mir (precursor to Space Station) as Jules Verne-like with ivory keys on the control panel and a red leather chair. Who needs a chair in Zero-G, if you think about it? But Dave said he spend time in the red leather chair as best he could on orbit. Velcrow, perhaps?

Smells in space:

Julie Payette answers question

Julie Payette answers question

Both Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and Dave Wolf talked about how the U.S modules on Space Station differ from the Russian side — look, feel, taste and smell. Dave said the smell of the Russian modules reminded him of his time on Mir. You gotta’ wonder exactly what that means…right? But then, if you think about it, our senses are assaulted walking into someone’s home — smell of cookies or fried foods, smoke or new carpet, candles or dirty clothes. Space Station is their home in space. They eat, sleep, exercise, work for up to six months at a time. They will leave their scent, I assume. Hmmm.

Fear of Falling:

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

First-time astronaut Chris Cassidy spoke of his first moments after opening the hatch for his spacewalk. He looked out to see the Earth spinning under him. As he watched, he realized he held onto the handle with a death-grip. His brain had to process the reality that he wouldn’t fall…he would float.

Our human brains are gravity-wired. Even with years of training, astronauts have to mentally, as well as physically, adjust to the differences zero-g present.

One-way ticket to Mars:

When asked if any of the STS-127 crew would jump at a ticket to Mars, Chris Cassidy spoke of family and how they factor into the decision. He and Commander Mark Polansky both said the decision might be different if family could go along.

Would you go, if given the opportunity — knowing you would never see our blue planet or other Earthlings EVER again?

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to have that choice? Someday our planet will be asking our global citizens for volunteers on humanity’s quest for knowledge. Someday.

In the meantime, we’ll host space invaders fresh from our orbital outpost 220 miles overhead.

STS-127 Lift Off

STS-127 Lift Off. Credit/NASA

The Office of Space Operations hosted the brand spankin’ new astronauts for an early breakfast. Our Exploration colleagues joined us.

Astronaut-Africa Connection:

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

I spent some time with Dr. Kate Rubins, one of 14 members of the 2009 Astronaut Class. She’s an expert on infectious diseases — HIV, Ebola and Lassa viruses, which primarily affect West and Central Africa. She’s been given her “call-sign” already by her fellow astronauts: Bola (as in E-bola). I really enjoyed hearing about her time in Africa working with the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She lamented how so many diseases are preventable with education and simple steps.

Kate is taking action to relieve suffering by founding the Congo Medical Relief Organization to provide medical supplies to the poverty-stricken.

You can become a fan of Congo Medical Relief on facebook. Their first support site is: L´Hôpital Général de Référence de Kole in a remote region of central Democratic Republic of CongoKate told me the Astronaut Office supported her work and encouraged her to continue her efforts. So cool!

Now, if we can only link NASA advances in supporting human life in the harsh reality of space to relieve those facing harsh realities here on our home planet.

Side note: After spending time in Africa (as you can obviously tell from my Africa blogposts), I left my heart there. I would LOVE to find a way to collaborate in some way — taking the best NASA has to offer to lift up those who can’t help themselves. That’s the missionary in me, I guess. Ideas on how to do this?

Viral Space Fever:

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

I spoke with many of the Astronaut Candidates about the importance of sharing the magic of space outside our circle of influence. They are SO, SO eager and enthusiastic now.

Jeanette Epps, 2009 Astronaut Class, told me,“We’ve been given this amazing opportunity to live out our dreams.

She and the others can’t imagine NOT wanting to share this experience with anyone willing to hear it.

Sadly, my experience predicts otherwise.

Editorial comments (i.e. Soapbox Moment):

Sharing the astronaut experience through public appearances — school visits, events, speeches, and more — must be approved by the Astronaut Office in Houston. The decision to honor the request or not is viewed in light of the mission: sending humans safely to space and back. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Fact: Our Astronaut Corps is shrinking with the close of the Shuttle program in 2010.
  2. Fact: We have fewer slots for longer duration missions on the International Space Station (which increases time needed to train).
  3. Fact: Everyone (or almost everyone) wants a chance to meet an astronaut.
  4. Fact: We have too few astronauts to meet all the requests for public appearances.
  5. Fact: Every minute an astronaut spends attending a public appearance translates into one minute less training for a task on a mission.
  6. Perception: Mission training is more valuable to NASA than public appearances.

Here’s what I have observed of the astronaut culture over the years:

An astronaut who enjoys “speaking with the public” risks being seen as less technically-credible by fellow astronauts.

A less technically-credible astronaut may jeopardize selection for the highly coveted slot on space missions — which take years to secure. Astronauts who are the best “Space Ambassadors” may risk ridicule as “attention-seekers.” Ah, those pesky unwritten rules on how to get one of those few seats on a spaceship leaving Earth.

Several members of the new Astronaut Class commented that they’d been advised to keep a low profile. Yet, I want them to have the HIGHEST of ALL profiles. I say, BRING it ON: hand-held video for YouTube, blogposts, Twitter and Facebook updates.

Let the world be part of astronaut training — right along side them!

 Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

One of the former Astronaut Office chiefs told me they worked hard to balance mission-critical training with all the outside non-mission-critical requests for their time. Public outreach/educational events remove the astronauts from the job each was selected for — going into space. Training requires single-minded focus.

‘Really hard to argue against that logic. Mission-critical sounds like it should trump anything non-mission-critical. Right? But really, isn’t that just an assumption within our traditions and culture?

I really don’t envy the Astronaut Office folks. I can only imagine the pressure they’re under to juggle all the competing requirements for their time. I also get our NASA culture: we stick with what’s worked well for us in the past. But…is that the only way to succeed?

Can tradition handicap us, get in the way of creative solutions?

Enter technology — tools that could lighten the load and create new ways to share the training process with the rest of the world. Social media tools make sharing so simple. At one point, we were all afraid of e-mail. Now we can’t live without it for accomplishing work.

So here’s what I would do — in my imaginary world where I’m King of the Universe:

I would rewrite the equation: 1/2 unit technical + 1/2 unit inspirational = 1 Astronaut

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

In my opinion, social media should be a ‘given’ throughOUT the entire training process. Equip the astronauts with the iPhone 3GS (video) so they can instantly post pics and video inside the simulators, water training, T-38 practice time, and more.

Allow the tax-payer an opportunity to participate and interact WITH our incredible national treasure — the space travelers who’ve broken the bonds of Earth gravity.

If I were King, I would craft a career path that includes time at NASA Headquarters for EACH and EVERY astronaut in the Corps — prior to promotion consideration of any kind. (I realize this sounds harsh for uprooting the family structure, but kids/family members can benefit from time in our nation’s Capitol.) The time would be split evenly:

  1. six months in the Office of Legislative Affairs (sharing NASA’s story with Members of Congress and staff) and
  2. six months in the Office of Public Affairs (learning and practicing communication methods and representing NASA at outreach-type events outside NASA).

Our future as a space-faring nation depends on the will of the people, as expressed through decisions by their elected representatives.

STS-127: Discovery docked to Space Station

STS-128: Discovery docked to Space Station

Our astronauts and our images of the heavens offer our citizens a window into the universe. Our images show the story of what’s beyond our reach. Our astronauts tell the story — how it feels to GO beyond our reach. Yes, training is crucial to get the job done. But, the real job, is getting OUT THERE…in the Universe! We need political will to get there.

Astronauts embody the human drive to push beyond the boundaries of our knowledge.

Yes, the technical aspects of the mission are CRUCIAL. We have human lives at stake. Totally. Absolutely! And, we, at NASA, are incredibly good at conducting missions safely. However, without the storytelling — how it tastes and feels, complete with hair-raising near-misses and close calls — we may not have future space missions to conduct.

Humans are addicted to the drama behind the story.

Why else would we have an entertainment industry that we throw money at — for the privilege of losing ourselves inside the storytelling in novels, movies and TV shows?

So let’s tell our story…using every tool we’ve got!

IMG_0739

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Filed under Africa, culture, Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, poverty, space, water

Southern Africa: Story Behind the Eyes

Growing up as a kid in Texas, I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF, an organization that helps at -risk children in developing countries. We collected donations instead of candy. Going to school in Nova Scotia following high school, I organized a 40-mile walk-a-thon to benefit UNICEF. Only three of us completed the forty miles. I only remember dehydration and an emergency room visit upon finishing. The rest is a blur. I have no recollection, what-so-ever, of how much we earned for our efforts. Probably not much.

All that seems so long ago. UNICEF never went away. At-risk children never went away.

Perhaps I lost sight of the cause once my own life got complicated.

I’m looking at it now though. My daughter’s passion for children orphaned by the AIDs pandemic focused my attention again.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

According to UNICEF:

“About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.”

Boys in the bush.

Boys in the bush.

The UNICEF website cites frightening statistics for the southern part of Africa:

“The number of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is projected to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, 18 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This, along with only modest progress fighting malaria, means the threats facing child survival are as grave as ever.”

I’m just now researching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Yes, I know. I haven’t been paying attention.

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership
Kids on street in Zambia

Kids on street in Zambia

Goal 6, combatting HIV/AIDS, directly relates to my daughter’s passion for the alarming number of children orphaned by the great killer.  Projections point to 18 million parentless children in Sub-Saharan Africa by next year. These children must assume the parental role of finding food and caring for their siblings, forcing many to drop out of school.

In South Africa, the statistics on the number of individuals, of all ages, living with HIV/AIDs — simply staggering.

This girl's got spunk!

This girl's got spunk!

Everywhere we went during our time in South Africa, the topic came up. Parents are dying. If family members aren’t available to care for the children, the social services steps in. But often, the children slip through the cracks because their parents never informed the schools of their illness. The children simply stop coming to school. As we learned from our interview with the school principal in Soweto Township, she often serves as a detective/social worker at times, trying to determine where the child is, once he disappears from class.

I really started this blogpost to show you the faces of the children we met. Somehow, I felt compelled to add a bit about their world. I don’t know their individual stories to share with you, only the aggregate.

Just look into their eyes. I’ll let the children speak for themselves.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Fighting for the shot

Fighting for the shot

South Africa school uniform

South Africa school uniform

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

Now THAT's a pose!

Now THAT's a pose!

Such a tiny one.

Such a tiny one.
He elbowed everyone to get near me.

He elbowed everyone to get near me.

Hopeful, yet measured

Hopeful, yet measured


My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

Best friends

Best friends

Full of promise

Full of promise

Not sure of me...

What a dumplin'

She never once smiled

She never once smiled

Play buddies

Play buddies

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

He wanted a "sweetie."

He wanted a "sweetie."

She's not sure about me yet.

She's not sure about me yet.

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, poverty