NASA Astronaut Touches Down at Playtime!
Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and the first African American NASA administrator, stopped by D.C. General on June 30 to teach the “next generation of explorers” the basics of being an astronaut.
Children in our Playtime, Preteen and Teen programs learned some exercises they would need to perfect in order to be a fully licensed astronaut: the “Captain’s Crunches” and the “Pilot’s Plank.” These exercises had children ages three to 14 on the floor preparing their bodies for walking on the moon and tethering themselves to space ships.
The children were entranced as a “real live astronaut!” walked into the room in a space suit, complete with helmet and air pack. Children in superman, policeman, and princess costumes swarmed the astronaut upon his arrival, and she quickly disappeared under a mountain of adoring children.
Space food was a popular topic of discussion: Administrator Bolden explained how astronauts eat many of the same foods we do on Earth, taking care not to let the liquids escape into blobs floating through the shuttle. Like many earth-bound humans, astronauts have a penchant for foods like peanut butter and tortillas because they do not dry out or get old as quickly in the dry atmosphere of space.
Mr. Bolden focused on the importance of staying in school, emphasizing that they are the next generation of explorers. “What do you need for any job? Math and science!” As the youth shared their dream jobs, he looked at each of them and said that anyone who doubts their ability to achieve their dream to “just watch me.” This astronaut literally made the journey from the segregated south to low earth orbit.
“I want them to know they can do anything they want to do if they’re willing to work really hard and study; everyone deserves to dream big dreams and never give up on themselves,” he said.
This is the fifth year of Playtime’s partnership with NASA. The partnership began five years ago when a Playtime volunteer asked her roommate who worked for NASA to send us an astronaut, and Leland Melvin visited D.C. General for the next three years. Upon his retirement, Melvin sent his boss in his place, and for the past two years, Administrator Bolden has continued broadening the children’s horizons.
Playtime Project’s executive director, Jamila Larson, says she gets the chills each time an astronaut descends into DC General. “Here’s a guy who’s been to space four times, commanding two of those missions. Charles Bolden is living black history. He could literally be anywhere in the world and beyond and here he is, descending into the shelter to inspire our children.”
As he left each child with a NASA backpack and an autographed photo and said goodbye, he was met with a flurry of children outside D.C. General. “Bye, Astronaut,” they called to him into the darkening night sky. One little boy ran up to his room and taped the picture on the wall of the shelter above his bed. How many children are going to look up at that sky, and even in the mirror at themselves, a little differently from now on? Thank you, Charles Bolden.