Army Astronaut promotes STEM, inspires space exploration
May 7, 2013
NEW YORK CITY (May 7, 2013) -- Ask the average high school student what he knows about U.S. Army astronauts, and he might respond by asking, "The Army has astronauts really?" Believe it or not, the Army has been partnering for decades with NASA to send Soldier-astronauts to space, including heroes like Col. Robert S. Kimbrough, Chief of Robotics at the NASA Astronaut Office, who is a former alumnus and assistant professor of mathematics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
But for nearly 200 Long Island and Brooklyn-based high school students, the opportunity to meet and interact with a real Army astronaut in April was as novel to them as extra vehicular activity was to Kimbrough before his first spacewalk at the International Space Station in 2008.
"I've never seen an astronaut, not even an Army astronaut, so this is very exciting for me," said 15-year old Saif Mohamed, who is a JROTC student at Aviation High School in Long Island City. Like his peers, Mohamed attended the U.S. Army STEM question and answer session facilitated by Kimbrough at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Long Island, N.Y. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
From within the darkness and silence of the round Dome Theatre, Kimbrough launched his Q&A session for the students with a video that set the course at a cool 17,500 mph, almost as fast as Sputnik 1, which in 1957, traveled into space from Russia at 18,000 mph. Set to feet-tapping music, the video illustrated fast-moving satellite technology, more specifically, imagery of weather patterns like those seen during hurricanes and tsunamis -- proof that science and technology can be leveraged to forewarn humans of danger and possibly save thousands of innocent lives.
The trend in students' questions suggested they were more intrigued by the astronauts' day-to-day living than of the actual robotics work being conducted at the International Space Station. Kimbrough explained that aboard Space Transportation System 126, he and six other astronauts, lived, worked and slept together in an area about seven feet by 12 feet by eight feet wide or roughly 672 square feet en route to the ISS.
To put that into perspective, the average deployed Soldier with all his combat and specialized gear generally shares a similar amount of living space with only one other battle buddy.
Kimbrough shared it with six! To think about living that cramped for 16 days is almost surreal, like a galaxy far, far away, yet these are the sacrifices Soldier-astronauts make for the love of what they do and for the pursuit of advancing America as a STEM superpower.
"Becoming an astronaut takes more than just high physical fitness scores, mental abilities and an interest in STEM," said Kimbrough, who earned his master's of science degree in operations research from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1998 and has logged more than a decade of time serving from the cockpit of U.S. Army aviation. "I believe it takes teamwork and leadership to be an astronaut, and I believe Army Soldier-astronauts bear those traits. A great deal of that space station was constructed by Army hands over the last 10 years, but it's you, the young engineers, the young scientists of America who we need to build the next space craft for deep-space exploration, so we can thrust forward and reestablish our country's position as the superpower of STEM."
After his Q&A session at the museum, Kimbrough traveled to Carle Place High School in Long Island to give a similar presentation to another group of students. He was joined by 1975 Carle Place High School alumnus and Commander of the U.S. Army's Accessions Support Brigade, Army Marketing Research Group, Col. Mark A. Rado.
The U.S. Army STEM Experience, one of the interactive vans assigned to the fleet of mobile assets in Rado's educational arsenal, entertained students and teachers alike on the school campus. Once inside, users were transported to the year 2032 via a barrage of fictional video clips, detailing an extremist group that has attacked a chemical plant in Eastern Europe. In the Mission Room, a team of Army Soldiers and scientists briefed the students regarding the current situation and informed them that their skills were needed to protect the lives of thousands of endangered civilians.
Students like 18-year-old John N. Hartsough, who visited the STEM experience earlier in the day at the museum, used the touch-screen computer stations in the STEM Laboratory Room to build and launch science and technology-based solutions to avert the environmental crisis. Based on his selections, Hartsough successfully leveraged his critical thinking and leadership skills to compile an Army strong team that saved hundreds of unnecessary civilians from dying.
"It was amazing for me to see the type of weapons they are developing in the Army these days," said Hartsough, who has been accepted at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Like many other Americans, he was unaware that the Army is a leader in the fields of science and technology, offering training and experiences that are in high demand in the civilian job market.
His father, John L. Hartsough, a vice president of a sales company in the tri-state area, was even more intrigued to learn how the Army leverages technology to save lives on the battlefield. Unmanned aerial drones, robotics and advanced medical technology are among the many advances in science and mathematics that support our Soldiers around the globe each day.
In addition to two Army astronaut presentations, Rado, the 1975 president of the school's Student Organization, recognized various members of the audience for their achievements, including his nephew, Anthony J. Kellerman, high school senior Erik Langert, the 2013 president of the Student Organization, middle school student, Luke Conway, who volunteered to send care packages to American Soldiers deployed overseas, and lastly, Principal Thomas DePaola, for allowing the U.S. Army into the school to connect with America's students.
"Since becoming your principal in July, I have met one hero from the Carle Place Community," began DePaola. "Today, I add two more people to that list. One of these heroes sat in the very chairs in this auditorium as a student, and the other sat in a spaceship as a NASA astronaut. One walked our hallways to get to class while the other walked in space not once, but twice! One travelled the towns of Carle Place, Mineola and Westbury, and the other traveled over six million miles in space. Both are colonels in the U.S. Army, and both have served our country gallantly during peacetime and war."
"It's important to give back to people in organizations who made us who we are," said Rado. "Carle Place developed me as a young person and set the foundation for who I am and what I've become. Then the Army gave me the tools I needed to take that strong foundation and develop me as a leader and to further my education. So to be able to come here today and give back to Carle Place and to the Army is a great day for me. Experiences like this remind me of what President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' Today, this is what I can do for my country and my community, to let you know about the opportunities out there for you to become citizens not only in your community and but also in the nation as a part of our Army."
For Kimbrough, getting the chance to interact with students and with fellow Soldiers continues to be both a positive experience and a nice change of pace from his routine at NASA where he maneuvers robotic arms and frequently thinks in 3-D during his duty day.
"I always appreciate getting the chance to pay back the Army," said Kimbrough. "Anytime we can help the Army and our community like this is good because I get to talk to potential leaders, potential army officers and maybe even potential Army astronauts, which is even better to me because I have the chance to influence and inspire young people from all walks of life."
USAREC's Total Army Involvement in Recruiting program made possible Kimbrough's visit from NASA's Johnson Space Center, so the New York City Recruiting Battalion could leverage the human terrain of Army STEM and connect the face of the American Soldier-astronaut with America's high school students in Long Island. His STEM Q&A presentations promote the Department of Defense's STEM Education and Outreach Strategic Plan designed to inspire, develop and attract the STEM talent essential in delivering innovative solutions for the nation's current and future challenges.