Alabama's first astronaut headlines Troy University's Aerospace Day

Posted: Friday, 21 November 2008

DOTHAN – Hank Hartsfield, a Birmingham native who became Alabama’s first astronaut, shared memories of his three space flights Friday during the fifth annual Aerospace Day at Troy University’s Dothan campus.

The free event aimed to provide area teachers with ideas on how to incorporate aerospace studies into classrooms, said Sandy Armstrong, director of TROY’s Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium.

“This event allows teachers and students to meet astronauts, and we hope it encourages them to use aerospace education as a tool to teach math, science and technology in grades K-8,” Armstrong said.

Hartsfield shared photographs and memories from his missions as a pilot and commander on the space shuttles Columbia, Discovery and Challenger from 1982 to 1985.

Hartsfield said he is often asked to describe what it feels like as the space shuttle lifts off.

“It’s a real kick in the tail,” he said. “The vibration you feel in the cockpit is like riding a freight train. But when the solid rocket motors go off it’s a smooth ride, just like riding in your bed.”

Speaking on his 75th birthday, Hartsfield said his shuttle missions were “a real thrill.”

“I’d sure like to do it again,” he said.

The event was attended by area teachers involved in the Alabama Math and Science Teaching Initiative and the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium, and fourth graders from Kelly Springs Elementary School in Dothan who recently studied about Hartsfield at school.

Hartsfield encouraged the students to study hard and set goals.

“Somewhere along the way you will find out what your goal is,” he said. “Find out what it takes to get there and work hard.”

Joining Hartsfield during a panel discussion were Paul Johnson, an aerospace engineer at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville and Dr. Wil Robertson, a NASA education specialist.

Teachers also participated in sessions with Johnson and Robertson. They were given free materials and lesson plan ideas for incorporating aerospace study into their classrooms.

Aerospace Day