Posted by: COSI | October 24, 2008

Out-Of-This-World Inspiration

Having the NASA mobile experience parked out in front of COSI has brought back a lot of memories regarding how our space exploration has been so inspiring to me throughout my life. My personal story of inspiration is one of the reference points I often refer to as we work to build on COSI’s ability to connect and inspire through real science experiences.

NASA at COSI

NASA at COSI

NASA’s traveling exhibition out front features one of only six moon rocks around the country that the public can actually touch! The article that appeared in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch related how the young child was more entranced with other aspects of the exhibition than the moon rock, but when I put my fingers on the polished piece of lunar basalt I was connected with a lifetime of dreams and experiences that I treasure.

I was about ten years old when John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to place man on the moon and return them safely, and like most people of that time, I was engaged in and fascinated by that quest. That interest was part of what inspired me to study science.

John Glenn purchases his COSI Membership in 1965

John Glenn purchases his COSI Membership in 1965

I vividly remember sitting in my elementary classroom, listening to a crackling radio as we, along with (as it seemed) everyone in the world, listened intently to the unfolding account of John Glenn circling the earth and the anxious moments of his re-entry. And now, through my position at COSI, I’ve had the privilege to become acquainted with Senator Glenn and his wonderful wife Annie—two American treasures. We’ve been able to chat about early COSI, the need for improved science education and inspiration that COSI can help provide, and on one neat occasion, just listen to him describe the crude, but effective, early navigation systems that pioneering pilots used in their flights, including his own.

Then I found out that Senator Glenn, after his historic flight, made an appearance at COSI within its first year and has been a supporter ever since. As COSI‘s President and CEO, being the successor of a famous astronaut, Kathy Sullivan, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know her and her life stories as her work in math and science education policy intersects at times with our work at COSI.

Several years ago as part of the Association of Science Museum Directors, we were treated to a memorable behind-the-scenes tour of Kennedy Space Center. My wife, Dottie, and I along with the others found ourselves standing under one of the surviving shuttles while our NASA guide pointed out the tile area that failed leading to the most recent and tragic shuttle disaster. Standing so close we could see the incredible streak marks from re-entry on the tiles!

And then when COSI was one of the few selected hosts for NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration last February, with forums taped in the WOSU@COSI studio and broadcast on NASA TV, I met an astronaut who grew up in Cleveland close to my childhood home. He, along with the other guest astronaut of the event, had both trained with Mike Fincke, a former student of mine who is now a veteran space station astronaut!

So  these thoughts and many others flooded in as I stood there with my fingers stroking the moon rock—proving that even with a 56-year-old, the inspiration from youth can fill a lifetime and still leave you inspired when new opportunities to connect with a larger-than-life initiative come your way. And I’m hoping the opportunities we’re creating at COSI is doing the same for others—that’s one of the powers science centers can have!

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