NASA Future Forum
“Seeds of NASA are Growing in Washington State”
Hear the speech With introduction by Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, president of the Museum of Flight (MP3 file)
Happy 50th Anniversary NASA. It is a privilege to be with you to celebrate this giant and historic occasion in this NASA Future Forum. I would like to add my congratulations to NASA and all of its aerospace partners for all of your many significant accomplishments over these years.
I will get to the future, but first want to spend some time on the past so we can put it all in perspective.
On the edge of the Capitol campus in Olympia where I work stands a big Douglas fir. It is the fir that our thousands of annual visitors first see as they approach the campus after exiting from I-5 – the visitor’s center is on the left and the tree is to the right.
There’s a sign in front of the fir to guide people to the proper place, and that’s probably the first thing people who aren’t familiar with the campus look at as they approach. In fact, most visitors probably don’t give this tree a second thought, if any thought at all. Little do these visitors know they are missing a very interesting story as they drive by this tree.
This tree, the one shown behind me, is called the Moon Tree, and for reason. On January 31, 1971, the third lunar mission Apollo 14 – yes, the one following the world famous “Houston, We Have a Problem” mission, rocketed into space. A few days later astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon.
Orbiting around the moon on the command module was astronaut Stuart Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper. Encouraged by another smoke jumper pal, Roosa took along with him many canisters of tree seeds of several varieties as a personal experiment.
As we know Apollo 14 made it back without a problem - but not those tree seeds. Upon their return to earth, during de contamination procedures, Roosa’s seed canisters somehow burst open and spilled all over the place. It was assumed they would no longer grow.
Yet the seeds were retrieved by a faithful individual named Stan Krugman and were sent on to Mississippi and California to germinate. To the surprise of many, they thrived, and were sent around the country as seedlings to grow. Our Capitol Moon Tree sprouted from one of those moon seeds, planted in 1976 on the occasion of our nation’s bicentennial.
I am pleased to report – and you can see it here - that this tree stands tall and healthy today. I attended a rededication ceremony five years ago with students from Clark County, which is the main reason I know of its history.
I believe the tree is symbolic of the whole NASA experience because NASA, more than any government organization, has been the seed of inspiration and imagination for millions around the country and the world. The seeds that NASA has planted in its space programs have sowed nothing short of miracles and accomplishment, reaching far beyond the extraordinary technology that launched men and women into space time and again.
I have opened my remarks with the story of the tree because it is a link, one of many that our state has to the NASA program. It is especially fitting that Washington state was chosen for the kick-off location for the NASA Future Forum – for our history and our future are closely intertwined with aviation and aerospace.
You are all familiar with President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to America that sparked dreams and imagination across the country when he declared to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961 – just three years after the formation of NASA – but it bears repeating today:
President Kennedy said:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
It is reported that some people thought the president was off his launch pad for making that comment, but here in Washington state his challenge was met mostly with excitement and praise.
I had just turned 11 years old and can remember the buzz that the president created at a time when our nation’s focus was on other troubling things, like the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And even though we catapulted a rhesus (RE-SIS) monkey named Albert 39 miles into the air on a V-2 rocket in 1948, we had just had our butts kicked by the Soviets who sent 13 dogs into space – we called them Muttnicks - in their Sputnik program.
When Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth on April 12, 1961, the Space Race was truly under way. It was just a month after that when Kennedy made his bold challenge to Congress.
As a kid the president’s challenge sparked my imagination and surely inspired teens and pre-teens across America. For the first time we were challenged by a young president with a solid goal. Somehow we knew if we all teamed together it could be done. President Kennedy lifted our spirits at a time when we really needed to be lifted. With these simple words the president had planted a seed.
Washington is known worldwide as state rich with an ambitious and incomparable history of contribution to space and to flight. The prospect of contributing and working in aerospace is responsible for inspiring untold numbers of youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Our state has long been recognized for its pioneering role and leadership in the commercial aerospace industry. It was Bill Boeing, of course, the son of a German mining engineer, who converted a fortune made in iron ore and Washington lumber into this giant company that soared after World War II and today builds commercial and military aircraft for the world. Bill Boeing’s company also makes significant contributions to technology that is used on the space shuttle, in satellites and on host of military and commercial applications for the space industry.
Our state was thrilled when barnstormer Clyde “Upside Down” Pangborn, a native of north central Washington, made aviation history when he and co-pilot Hugh Herndon flew his single-engine Bellanca monoplane, the Miss Veedol, from Sabishiro Beach, Japan to the central Washington city of Wenatchee, landing on October, 1931. In doing so he completed the first non-stop flight across the Pacific.
Washington state had already achieved a footnote in aviation history four years earlier when a beefed up monoplane called the Spirit of St. Louis piloted by Charles Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic. The Spirit of St. Louis, you see, was made mostly of Washington grown spruce. A few months after making his historic flight, Lindbergh included Seattle in an 80-city promotional tour. He thrilled a crowd of 25,000 as he buzzed over a game at Husky Stadium before being greeted by 3,000 at Sand Point Naval Air Station, returned to the stadium by yacht then went over to greet thousands of school children at Volunteer Park and was the star of a parade along Second Avenue.
The first transpolar flight also put Washington on the map in 1937, when a crew of three Soviet aviators landed in Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington after flying over Siberia and the North Pole.
This Museum of Flight is filled with stories and exhibits of aviators and their machines, space missions and astronauts.
The Museum of Flight director, Bonnie Dunbar, is of course one of 15 NASA astronauts that were either born in Washington or have close ties to our state. Dr. Dunbar’s inspiring story is one of particular interest to me and especially this month, which is National Mentoring Month. This month particularly is all about inspiring caring adults to guide youth to their greatest potential. We celebrated this month yesterday with an awards ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.
According to an article about Dr. Dunbar written by one of my staff way back in 1983 (SHOW ARTICLE), Dr. Dunbar herself was inspired by at least two mentors. As a youth growing up in Sunnyside, Washington, near Yakima, it never occurred to Bonnie that there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She had a keen interest in space and was nurtured along by one of her teachers at Sunnyside High School who nourished her interest in science and math.
In fact the headline over that article in The Daily World in Aberdeen read: Female astronaut says great teacher inspired her career.
That teacher “wanted to give students everything he could to push excellence,” Dr. Dunbar was quoted then as saying. This week she told us there were actually five teachers, three at Sunnyside High school and two at Outlook Grade School, who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. She went on to study ceramic engineering at the University of Washington, and then worked for companies like Boeing and Rockwell before joining NASA in 1978. As an astronaut, she was mentored by another Washingtonian, John Fabian, who was raised in Pullman and attended Washington State University. So we had a Coug mentoring a Husky – you see anything is possible in space!
At the time Dr. Dunbar entered the NASA training program, other woman had been trained as astronauts as far back as the Mercury program, but no other American woman had made it into space. It wasn’t until June 18, 1983 that Sally Ride rode the rocket to achieve that fame. Bonnie first went up on the shuttle in 1985 then four more times over her extraordinary and distinguished career. In the process she marked another Washington first when in 1992 she and Ellen Baker were among the first crew members to dock with the Russian space station.
I am sure Dr. Dunbar has mentored and inspired a number of young people herself over the years and the Museum of Flight certainly plants many seeds among our youth.
In fact a Bellevue High School student who worked for me as a page last session, Tyler Grisdale, is enrolled in the Washington Aerospace Scholars program which is coordinated by the Museum of Flight. This is not a simple scholarship application. It is very competitive and offered to just 225 talented juniors from across the state.
Tyler and the other kids in the program participate in a 10-lesson class of NASA-designed curriculum covering the history of space exploration, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Out of those 225 students, 165 will be fortunate enough to be accepted into in six-day summer residency program at the museum where they will work cooperatively to plan a mission on Mars. Along the way they will learn from professional engineers, scientists, university students and educators.
Perhaps some of these students will go on to careers in aerospace directly as a result of this program. There are many other programs that teach aeronautics and space curriculum in our high schools and colleges, including Aviation High School in the nearby city of Des Moines where the whole curriculum is geared toward flight.
The NASA School Explorer Program brings together educators, administrators and families at selected schools. Middle schools in our communities of Toppenish and Lakebay have both participated in this grant-based program and their students have learned many lessons about space. Dick Scobee Elementary School in Auburn, named of course after the astronaut who perished on the Challenger, continues to inspire the young students who attend. Astronaut Scobee was born in Cle Elum, Washington and raised in Auburn.
In 1996 shuttle Astronaut Captain Charles Brady, who lived in Washington in the years before his death in 2006, took time during the mission to use the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX), to connect with middle school students living in Washington state.
Classrooms across the country use imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope and orbiting satellites to study the galaxies as well as earth itself. New Internet technologies like Google Earth and Google Moon, in collaboration with NASA, are allowing us all to explore space as never before, right from our computer desktops!
These NASA programs all inspire us and lead us to new innovation. These are the kinds of programs that seed some of our best and brightest who may themselves aspire to be an astronaut or make other significant contributions to the space industry.
Just like the Moon tree, the space industry is one that has flourished in our state and NASA itself contributes greatly to our state’s economy. As Deputy Administrator Dale shared with you this morning, in 2007 alone, NASA obligated $27 million in the state, including $16 million to businesses, $9 million to educational institutions and $2 million to non-profit organizations.
According to our state’s department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, the folks who keep our economic data current, Washington State is home to the largest concentration of aerospace workers in the world. Over 100,000 skilled workers and more than 600 companies produce over $36 billion in business activity, ensuring Washington’s continued role as a leader in aerospace innovation. Our workforce is trained and highly skilled to meet the growing demands of this industry.
While most of the activity is centered in the Puget Sound region, the impact of aerospace is felt statewide. Spokane, one of the large cities in our state and nearly 300 miles from Seattle, has a major effort under way to attract more investment in aerospace, and can already trace 16,000 area jobs to the industry, with about 10 percent of those jobs in direct manufacturing related to avionics. So Washington state, thanks to solid programs in engineering, math, science and vocational education is positioned very well in aerospace programs for the United States, for planet earth and far beyond.
Places like the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and the nearby Science Fiction Museum, now on display at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, fertilize young imaginations as to the art of the possible. Time and time again we see examples of what was fiction that today are becoming real life.
The 1960s original Star Trek made the expression, “Beam Me Up Scotty” part of the American vernacular but it has only been recently that act of beaming documents across wireless digital networks has become commonplace. I am sure somewhere in the world there are experiments where they are trying to transport physical matter from point to point, just as in Star Trek.
And of course one of the reasons Star Trek proved to be so ahead of its time was that it carried messages of diversity and interplanetary cooperation. That theme is in fact is playing itself out in the International Space Station and other cooperative efforts where people come together in the name of scientific exploration.
The NASA space program has indeed generated a number of NASA spin-off products that have opened our eyes and widened our imaginations and benefitted us in so many ways. These are in the areas of technology, food products, health and medicine, public safety, weather forecasting, transportation, communications, environment and much, much more.
For example, in this state there is continuing debate on how to fund future transportation projects and the subject of tolls is coming up often. So what's NASA got to do with tolls? Well, I’ve learned there is a connection to NASA with toll booths.
An airflow technique used in NASA clean rooms for contamination-free assembly of space equipment is now used at tollbooths on bridges and turnpikes to decrease the toll collector's inhalation of exhaust fumes. So, you see, NASA technology is everywhere ... Now if NASA can only figure out a way to beam us around that could really solve our traffic problems. We wouldn't need toll booths anymore.
We don’t know what is ahead and what wonders our involvement in space will bring in the future. We do know it’s an exciting ride and will continue to inspire us all. Space must continue to teach us, fascinate and inspire us.
President Kennedy’s historical man on the moon challenge rang true in space but we can also use it to model our other challenges as a way to bring us together and work toward common solutions for mankind.
If we can manipulate a piece of equipment on Mars, why can’t we make it a national goal, in a definitive time frame, to find a viable and practical form of energy that will free us of our dependence on foreign oil? No president that I know of has ever made that challenge, but personally I feel if we could unite as a country to accomplish just that we would succeed just as we did in space. Maybe the answer to our sustainable energy challenges will be found through research being conducted or coordinated by NASA. I would not be surprised.
And why can’t we use the model of space exploration that began with Star Trek and continues today to find ways to work globally on common problems that now separate us by political boundry? Boeing is now making its 787 Dreamliner that way and many other manufacturers are piecing together their products with parts made from around the world. The International Space Station has become an example of this kind of cooperation as well.
Back in 1983 Astronaut Dunbar reported that people were calling NASA to complain that the televised space shuttle flights were interrupting their soaps. Then as now, and especially in a media market where movies are so realistic that the lines of reality are very thin, NASA must continue to find ways to engage and challenge. Our kids have very high expectations!
The future of space will not be without risk. The two Washington astronauts who died on space missions – Dick Scobee and Michael Anderson of Spokane, who perished with the Columbia in 2003, certainly both knew and accepted the risks of space exploration. Clyde Pangborn took great risks when he performed daredevil stunts with his airplanes. We must all take risks so that, like our moon tree, we can continue to reach for the sky.
Just like our nation in the world of flight, Washington state has had a glorious, astounding past, a vigorous and progressive present and a very promising and exciting future. I am encouraged and certain of that future because of our bright young Americans, as you will see in my final note:
Astronaut Roosa’s Capitol moon tree not only stands as a guide post to our visitors, but just this week served as a teacher. We wanted to know how high the tree is today so we asked our Senate interns to find out. Two of these interns, Melissa Crumbaker, a Washington State University student from Vancouver and Jacob Kaaland, who attends Walla Walla University, stepped up to the job and put some trigonometry to work.
Here is Jake’s report:
We calculated the height by building a right angle triangle with two equal sides of eight inches, making the hypotenuse to be 45 degrees to either side. We used three rulers taped together to construct the triangle. The triangle, a makeshift transit, was then placed on a four-foot builder’s level. Then we held the level level with the triangle on it and aligned the angle with the top of the tree. We were then able to measure the distance from where the triangle was to the trunk of the tree, which gave us the height of that tree at about 76 feet.
I think Jake and Melissa are on their way to Mars. And wouldn’t Stuart Roosa might say: “Mission Accomplished.” Thank you.