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Astronaut TJ Creamer visits students at LES

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm

NASA astronaut TJ Creamer talks with students at Lynchburg Elementary School. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

After a 30-minute slide show full of awe-inspiring views from far above the earth, former NASA astronaut and current payload operations director at NASA’s Payload Operations Integration Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., fielded questions from students at Lynchburg Elementary School on Thursday.

“We were very pleased that he was able to join us,” said LES principal Thomas Fuhrman. “I thought that he had a wonderful presentation and I thought the students were really engaged.”

Creamer — who traveled 65.2 million miles around the planet while living and working more than five months aboard the space station — perhaps faced his toughest task yet while moving through the LES Auditorium answering questions from students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

“Where did you go to the bathroom?”

“How big was the bathroom?”

“How did you drink?”

“How did you take a shower?”

“Did you have television?”

“How old do you have to be to be an astronaut?”

The questions were fired at Creamer one by one, all seemingly very important to the group of elementary school students. And one-by-one the 53-year-old former Army Aviator answered them.

Creamer, the first astronaut to become a payload operations director at the Marshall Space Flight Center — the command post for research on the space station — is responsible for guiding the daily activities of station astronauts as they perform experiments in space.

The Maryland native launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft Dec. 20, 2009, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and docked with the station two days later. For the next 161 days, he served as a flight engineer and NASA science officer on Expeditions 22 and 23.

Creamer and his crew members supported three space shuttle missions that delivered the U.S. Tranquility module; installed onto Tranquility the Cupola — a seven-window facility looking directly at the Earth, from which we are getting many of the spectacular images from the space station; put the finishing touches on U.S. laboratory research facilities; and attached the Russian Rassvet laboratory to the station.

Creamer and the Expedition 23 crew returned to Earth aboard a Soyuz on June 1, 2010, landing in central Kazakhstan

With him, he had a dazzling array of photographs, many of which he shared with LES students during Thursday’s visit. But on Thursday, he had another mission.

Creamer’s visit to LES — and a subsequent stop at Ninth Grade Academy in Fayetteville — was aimed to attract and retain the interest of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM — disciplines to ensure the next generation can accept the full measure of their roles and responsibilities in shaping the future of NASA.

“How many of you would like to go to Mars?” Creamer asked afterwards.

Nearly every student raised a hand.

Mission accomplished.

*** NOTES: Because science is the prime reason for the International Space Station, Creamer has been certified as a Payload Operations Director in Huntsville, helping to coordinate real-time operations of all ISS-based science events. He is the first flown astronaut to do so.

***NOTES: In 1950 the U.S. Army relocated its missile and rocket programs to Huntsville, Ala. Ten years later, the Army’s space and rocket programs were transferred to the newly born civilian space agency — NASA — and the Marshall Space Flight Center was established on July 1, 1960.