COLUMBIA — While images of astronauts reaching up to snatch runaway pencils flicked on the screen, children reached up to grab homemade cookies under the watchful eyes of their parents, often sneaking a few at a time.
Students, parents and faculty gathered in the cafeteria Friday evening at Columbia Independent School to hear two former astronauts reflect on the space program and the importance of math and science in education.
Columbia residents Col. Steve Nagel and wife, Linda Godwin, spoke as part of an event sponsored by the school’s Flight Club.
Godwin joined NASA in 1980 in the Payload Operations Division as a mission operations directorate. She became an astronaut in 1986. During her time as an astronaut, she flew on four space flights, including two space walks and 38 days in space.
After leaving the Air Force as an F-100 pilot with the 68th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Nagel became an astronaut in 1979 and flew on four space flights. At the end of his fourth mission, he had logged 723 hours in space.
The club’s adviser, Steve Faber, said the pair couldn’t say yes fast enough after they were asked to speak.
“We want students to see that learning is fun, learning is a lifelong activity and that learning is enjoyment with family and friends,” Faber said. “This is the kind of event that does that.”
Godwin and Nagel began their presentation by discussing their educational backgrounds. Godwin teaches physics and astronomy at MU, where she received both her master's and doctorate degrees. Nagel is also a professor at MU and teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“I’m very proud of my Missouri education,” Godwin said. “I went to high school in Jackson, Missouri, did my undergrad at Southeast Missouri State and spent six years in graduate school at Mizzou.”
The pair went on to describe the history of the space shuttle and their voyages to space, while showing pictures taken from the Hubble Telescope. During the presentation, the pair catered to the younger audience by making jokes about Godwin’s hair sticking up in zero gravity, but they also went into exact detail about the logistics of lift-off.
A question and answer session at the end of the 35 minute presentation gave audience members the chance to ask questions of the former astronauts. Many children laughed loudly as the astronauts explained how to use the bathroom, while adults sat intrigued listening to the differences between training for a mission and the reality of being in space.
Flight Club members, who meet each Wednesday to practice their aviation techniques with flight simulators in the school’s media center, weren’t the only people impacted by the presentation.
“I learned a lot about how it’s hard to keep track of time when you’re in space and how sometimes landings can be bumpy,” said sixth-grade student Laura Peters. “But I’d like to go into space because it’s a good opportunity to see things you could never see in a picture.”
When the event ended, Godwin explained how her background and continued education opened doors for her that she never knew existed.
“There’s a lot of ways that through math and science and technology that you can touch lives,” Godwin said in her closing remarks. “And if you understand it well enough, to a level where you can judge what’s going on around you, you can really touch everybody.”
What would Columbia kids do if they could go to outer space? Our Community Outreach Team asked them, and we've got the answers. To see what they said, check out the photo album on the Columbia Missourian's Facebook page.