A former astronaut enthralled an auditorium brimming with kids and adults at Kent Gardens Elementary Wednesday with stories of space travel.
"It takes 8 1/2 minutes to get into space after liftoff," said Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper armed with movies of her space trips and dressed in her U.S Navy uniform. After you take off your spacesuit, "You start bumping into things. You lose things because they float," she said as the objects floated away in the movie playing behind her.
All this talk about space was really about stirring the imaginations of elementary school boys and girls to become engineers. This is Engineering Week at Kent Gardens, part of the school's new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ( STEM) program in which all students participate.
"We want them to be engineers because engineers make our lives easier and they protect us," said assistant principal Ramona Gavin.
About 500 very well-behaved children sat on the floor ringed by parents and teachers as Stefanyshyn-Piper spun stories of the adventure of space.
"I made two flights" to work with the international crews that are assembling Earth's first base in outer space. She celebrated Thanksgiving in space.
The space station is about the size of a three bedroom house, she said.
The weightlessness is fun. You sleep in a sleeping bag that's strapped to a wall or to the ceiling. You exercise (strapped in) because you're going to need those muscles back on earth.
"The neatest thing about being in space is looking out the window," she said. "It's such a pretty place to be."
Dranesville school board member Jane Strauss sounded like one of the students when she told the crowd, "This is such an exciting morning. Just shaking hands with someone who's been in space is so exciting."
Stefanyshyn-Piper an undergraduate and master of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, and a Technology. She retired from NASA, the space agency, and now works for the Naval Sea Systems Command. Yesterday's program kicked off a hoped-for partnership between Kent Gardens and this Navy Command which runs the Carderock, Md facility that tests the sea-worthiness of ships.
That partnership will lead to field trips plus legos and computer-controlled robots, assistant principal Gavin said. Teaching the kids how to build remote-controlled vehicles.
The U.S. Department of Defense employs more engineers that anyone else in the country, Gavin said. Baby Boomer engineers start retiring en masse next year (when the oldest turn 66) and more will retire each year. Our country needs to replace them with engineers who are U.S. citizens because of the new standards for security clearances.
"When you grow up you will have to solve problems, we never thought of," Strauss told the kids.