In 1961 America put its first astronaut into space, and a 6-year-old boy watching Alan Shepard’s fantastic voyage, on a TV in a school gymnasium in Cleveland, Ohio, vowed to follow him one day.
Dr Don Thomas did exactly that, going on to complete four shuttle missions in his seven years with NASA, and spending over
1 040 hours in space.
He spoke to pupils at three Cape Town schools, including Parklands College, last week about his experiences in space and the importance of finding new and innovative solutions to some of the problems here on Earth.
“As soon as the astronaut was in space, I said, ‘I want to do that’,” said Dr Thomas, recalling
Shepard’s journey into the history books as the first American into space.
“It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little boy. Watching that was the moment of inspiration that changed my life.”
The astronaut was brought to the country by Living Maths, an NGO that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Parents and children were captivated by Dr Thomas as he told how NASA had rejected him several times as he tried to become part of the space agency.
Steve Sherman, chief imagination officer at Living Maths, said they hoped that Dr Thomas’s visit would help to inspire pupils here to look heavenwards and, most importantly, follow their dreams.”
He is able to inspire and motivate people of all ages and his message ‘never give up on your dreams’ is so important,” said Mr Sherman.
Don Duffield, a science teacher at Parklands College Preparatory, said humanity would have to look beyond the Earth to find solutions to many of the problems plaguing the planet.
“That is why this young generation is important so that they can find solutions to the problems we currently face with a different way of thinking and using science and technology in order to do that.”
Mr Duffield went on to quote Einstein who said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same way of thinking we used to create them.”