LEXINGTON -- Students at the Lexington Elementary schools received an out-of-this-world lesson Monday.
Don Thomas, 64, of Cleveland, and a former missions specialist with NASA, spoke at the three elementary schools about his three missions to space on the Columbia space shuttle and one mission with the space shuttle Discovery.
His first Columbia flight was in July 1994. His first and only Discovery flight was in July 1995. In April 1997, he did another mission with Columbia. In July of 1997, he performed his last space mission with the Columbia Space Shuttle.
"I've seen the Amazon Rain Forest. I've seen Mount Kilimanjaro, so many sites of our planet (from space)," Thomas said, flipping through a slide show of space shuttle views of volcanoes, hurricanes, the Great Lakes, and Mount Everest.
But the important part of his lesson was about what he accomplished on the ground.
Thomas said he was A young boy when he fell in love with space travel.
"I was only 6-years-old in 1961, when the first American was launched into space," Thomas said while donning a blue NASA jumpsuit. "And I said to myself, 'I want to do that.' I wanted to ride on a rocket."
Thomas shared how his quest for space travel fed his every youthful move, from working hard in school to studying for tests.
"So all through school I tried to do my best, and all my subjects, math and science, art, music, gym, reading, history, whatever I was working on, I always gave it my best effort," he said. "After high school, I went on to college, I went to Case Western Reserve University up in Cleveland. I got my bachelor's degree in physics, one of the sciences, and that's a minimum degree to become an astronaut. Then I stayed in school and got my Masters degree and PHD in engineering."
He told the students who filled the multipurpose room at Eastern Elementary how he applied to NASA three times before he was hired. Only then did he find the course to fulfill his dream of being an astronaut. He emphasized how instead of giving up, he learned what he needed to do to better his chances of success.
"We try to get our kids to buy in on everything we say," said Buddy Miller, principal at Eastern Elementary School. "I liked that he talked about that. His struggles in his life and how much work it took for him to be an astronaut.
"I think that lesson is possibly more important that the hearing about the space aspect of it."
Thomas discussed future missions, showing the enthusiastic crowd illustrations of routes around the moon, and collections of asteroid -- all tests for the final mission: a trip to Mars.
"Twenty years from now, I'll be 84 so NASA is not sending me to Mars. I'm too old to go to Mars. Your teachers are too old to go to Mars. But you (students) are the perfect age," he said generating happy rumblings in the elementary crowd. "We call you the largest generation.
"It'll be somebody in your generation that's going to be that first person to set foot on Mars, which is why we say, we need you at NASA."
Miller said he thought the presentation today would be something his students would remember.
"None of the adults in that room have that potential," he said. "That's another good message he created. It's not up to us. It's up to them.
"Learning about what could be their future, I think was impactful."