How Did I Get Here?
I am barely old enough to remember the first Apollo Moon landings. I started
kindergarten in fall 1970. I can remember some of the later Moon landings (gosh--the last
one, Apollo 17, will be 25 years ago in December 1997!). My sister and I used to pretend
we were Moon astronauts. We would take paper grocery bags and cut them to make our own
space suits (large bags for the body, smaller bags for the helmet). We would decorate our
suits and we would jump off of chairs to simulate the high bounces that the astronauts
would make when they were walking around on Mars.
I really got interested in Mars when I was in 4th grade. When my teacher, Mr.
Loguidice, gave us our spelling homework we had to practice our spelling words before
each test. To practice the words, he encouraged us to write stories with our spelling
words, using all the words in a single story. So I did. I wrote really weird stories
about "Joe the Martian." To make my stories better, I would read about the planets from
books in the school library. I got really psyched about Mars because my character, Joe,
was from Mars. That was in 1975.
The next year, 1976, two spacecraft landed on Mars. It was AWESOME. I thought the
pictures sent back by Viking 1 and Viking 2 were the coolest things I had ever seen. I
would stare at the pictures for hours and hours and imagine myself walking around on
Mars, picking up the rocks and kicking at the little drifts. It was neat!
I grew up in Rochester, New York. This is in western New York, about 60 miles east of
Buffalo (yes, where Buffalo Wings come from). They get some pretty mean winters up there.
The winter of 1976-1977 was especially exciting for me. I was in 6th grade. We had a
humongous blizzard that year. Very huge. The snow drifts reminded me of the pictures of
drifts at the Viking 1 site on Mars. It was so cool. I would go outside and play in the
snow and pretend that it was Mars.
That was it. I was hooked. First "Joe the Martian," then the Viking landings and the
Blizzard of '77.
When I was in high school, NASA and the National Science Teachers Association had a
contest. It was called the "Space Shuttle Student Involvement Project, SSIP". Kids could
write proposals for experiments that would be flown on the Space Shuttle. Some kids
actually got to see their experiments fly in space! I tried this competition three years
in a row (10th, 11th, 12th grade). In 10th grade I only got a "certificate of
participation." But in 11th and 12th grade, I was a "Regional Winner" two years in a row.
As a regional winner (my region was New York and New England), you and your teacher would
get to go to a NASA center for a week and explain your proposal and tour the facilities.
We got to go to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. It was awesome. Neither of the
projects that I proposed to fly on the Shuttle were ever selected to actually GO, but the
experience I had was very inspiring.