Middle-schooler chats with former NASA astronaut



After visiting the Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology in fifth grade, Thomas Martinez set his heart on becoming an astronaut. For his Northwood Middle School Project, the now eighth-grader wanted to put together a presentation about his dream job. But how was he going to find an actual astronaut to interview?

Martinez turned to the Challenger Center, where executive director Chantel Madson scheduled him an interview with Kent Rominger, a former NASA astronaut and current vice president of ATK Aerospace Group. Rominger, a pilot who flew on five space missions and twice on Columbia Space Shuttle, Skyped in at the Challenger Center from Brigham City, Utah, to chat with Martinez April 18.

“It was an amazing experience to actually talk to an astronaut for the first time in my life,” Martinez said. “It’s been great, and I like everything about it.”

With questions like “What did you do on your space missions?” and “What advice do you have for someone like me who is interested in becoming an astronaut?” Martinez said he learned about spacewalks, working with science and, most importantly, the value of teamwork in the profession.

“I learned that the most important thing about being an astronaut is teamwork,” he said. “Together with the astronauts in space and the people at ground control, those people work together. If [Rominger] was just by himself, how could he survive out there without the help of other astronauts?”

Martinez said he felt his goal of becoming an astronaut was made more obtainable after meeting Rominger. He said he’s looking forward to having the chance to complete missions and space walks and explore the universe someday.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “Mostly, I would like to thank Chantel Madson for making everything happen.”

An emotional Madson said it was a great feeling to see Martinez light up when meeting Rominger. She said she is thrilled to see the Challenger Center is inspiring students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It was such a special day …” she said. “[It] was truly a ‘why we do what we do’ moment.”

Image Credit: Ken Farver
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