Students link to Richmond

Published 11:58 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2013

At Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School on Wednesday, student from Elizabeth Petry’s talented and gifted class link up with the first mom in space, Anna Fisher, as well as Sen. Louise Lucas, in the Capitol building in Richmond.

An inspirational message from the first mom in space was beamed into a Suffolk elementary school classroom during NASA Langley Aerospace Day.

Before the tough economy, fourth- and fifth-graders from Mack Benn Jr. Elementary’s talented and gifted class attended the General Assembly for face-to-face meetings with folks like astronaut Anna Fisher and Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).

But on Wednesday, they linked up via videoconference without leaving their classroom.

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“We used to take a whole bunch of kids to Richmond, but nobody has the funds to do that anymore,” said Rudo Kashiri, an Explorer Schools education specialist at NASA Langley Research Center.

“So instead of taking kids out, we do videoconferencing.”

Fisher explained to educator Elizabeth Petry’s class of 29 students that she was the first in her family to get a college education.

She said she was inspired to become an astronaut by Alan Shepard, the first American in space, adding, “When I went into science and math, I never forgot that I wanted to do that.”

Fisher was selected among America’s first female astronauts after studying to become a doctor and spending a decade in college. She moved with her family from California to Houston for NASA training.

“I sounds like a lot of years when you are your age looking forward, but let me assure you, it goes fast,” she said of her higher education.

Fisher took several questions from the Mack Benn students. They wanted to know things like what it was like being in space, how being an astronaut has changed her life, and what she wanted to be prior to wanting to become an astronaut.

Being in space was “just about as much fun as you can possibly imagine,” Fisher said. Being part of “the first step of leaving our planet” has “given meaning to my life,” and she didn’t know what she wanted to do before getting the space bug.

“It was very scary,” Fisher said of sitting back in a space shuttle before blast-off. “Going into space is always going to be a risky business, and I was a mother.

“All of a sudden, when you go up to the pad, you are like, ‘This is really going to happen.’ … Around the time that it gets into 30 seconds … you definitely have butterflies in your stomach. I remember thinking, ‘Can I change my mind?’ But, no, there is no going back.”

Lucas, seated next to Fisher during the videoconference, impressed upon the children the importance of staying in school.

During an earlier session at Mack Benn Wednesday, Delegate Lionell Spruill (D-77th) had said that a good education can help overcome growing up in a tough neighborhood.

Today, Mack Benn students are scheduled to videoconference with former first lady Barbara Bush.

Fourth-grader Alexis Rountree, selected for the honor from among her classmates, said she would ask, “If she wasn’t the first lady, what would she want to be.”