Glenn Research Center tour marks NASA anniversary

By Grant Segall - The Plain Dealer, Cleveland (TNS)

BROOK PARK, Ohio — Some 200 randomly chosen visitors posed with an astronaut, squeezed models of the Moon rovers’ rather flexible tires, plunged stakes into Martian-style sands and got “Golden Astronaut” figurines on Saturday during a rare day-long visit to NASA Glenn Research Center in honor of NASA’s 60th anniversary.

The visit gave Lalescia Hicks a little of the excitement of spaceflight without the risks. “I’ve loved space since I was a kid,” she said. “I watch every [launch]. I want to go there, even though I’ve got motion sickness.”

Sixty years ago this coming Monday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration replaced the former National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Glenn prepared for the occasion over the past few months by randomly giving out some 200 “Golden Astronaut” tickets at community events, most of which promoted STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

Valerie Ballem lucked into a ticket at First Beulah Baptist Church’s STEM festival. Touring a few buildings on Glenn’s 350-acre main campus, she said, “These are things you just don’t see every day.” A healthcare worker at University Hospitals, Ballem said, “I’m interested in the technology and the science and talking to the astronaut.”

The astronaut on hand was Greg Johnson, who graduated high school in Fairborn, Ohio, making him one of 25 astronauts with Ohio roots, by Glenn’s count. Johnson flew 61 combat missions in the Middle East, piloted two space shuttle missions and briefly managed public affairs and education at Glenn.

Johnson told visitors that it took him years to qualify as an astronaut. “Keep your dreams. You can do anything you want in this country.”

He narrated a slideshow about his space flights and said no photograph quite captures the view of Spaceship Earth from above. “It makes me wonder why we fight over things, and why we can’t take better care of our ship.”

A young visitor asked him, “Is it dangerous in space?”

“It’s dangerous,” Johnson replied, “but it’s dangerous to drive a car in Houston, and I did it for years.” He said the danger has diminished over time, thanks to technology on the ground.

Another visitor asked, “What do you do if you have a meteor shower?”

“There’s a debris avoidance maneuver, but it’s not 100 percent. We got hit on a window by a micrometeorite, and they blamed it on me, but Mission Control said we were fine.”

Marla Perez-Davis, Glenn’s deputy director, told visitors about decades of breakthroughs at NASA and especially at her center, based in Brook Park, with testing grounds in Perkins Township, Ohio. “Our discoveries are transferring our understanding of ourselves, our planets, our solar system and the universe.” Glenn has led NASA in developing power, propulsion and many other essentials for flight.

Visitors toured a wind tunnel that tests supersonic planes, an altitude combustion stand that tests engine parts, an electric propulsion laboratory that tests thrusters, a flight research aircraft hangar, a zero gravity research lab and a lunar operations lab that tests rovers.

Officials said they limited the crowd on campus because they’d held several open houses last year to mark Glenn’s 75th anniversary. Glenn opened as part of NACA. But, with Johnson in tow, they met the broader public later Saturday at Glenn’s visitor center, which is part of the Great Lakes Science Center.

By Grant Segall

The Plain Dealer, Cleveland (TNS)

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