July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and Kentucky Life takes a trip through its 25-year history to celebrate this achievement. Past segments include retired NASA astronaut Dr. Story Musgrave, Eastern Kentucky University’s Hummel Planetarium, an interactive space exploration experience for 6th graders at the Challenger Center at Hazard Community College, and the famous moonbow at Cumberland Falls State Park in Whitley County.
Astronaut Story Musgrave
Few humans will ever have the chance to visit space, and even fewer will leave the earth as many times as Dr. Franklin Story Musgrave. Dr. Musgrave, who goes by Story, flew on six spaceflights during his career as an astronaut, and is the only person to have flown aboard all five space shuttles.
Although he spent his early life in Massachusetts, Musgrave calls Lexington, Kentucky, his hometown.
“I came here [to the University of Kentucky] for my surgical training, internship and residency,” he says. “During my surgical training, that’s when NASA and the national academy said, we’re going to come up with a program to fly formally trained scientists. I said, ‘that’s me!’”
Space travel isn’t without its risks. But for astronauts like Musgrave, the mission is worth it.
“Story is just one of these people that has I think a very clear sense of his mission, of what he wants to do,” says Kris Kimel, co-founder and chairman of Space Tango. “I think all the stories I’ve heard of him really are about his dedication, his being courageous, and just wanting to reach out and do as much as he possibly can.”
For Musgrave, courage comes from an analytical place.
“It’s statistics of the risk,” he explains. “And so I don’t call it fear. I objectify fear. I’ve got the numbers. I’ve got the sense of statistics, and so my fear is a little different. It’s a statistical fear.
“While I’m sitting there [in the shuttle] waiting to go, it’s more a risk than I’d like. I’m not a risk-taker. So I’ve been trying to do the factors. I’m trying to control the outcome… If you’ve done your homework, then the mission itself, you’re gonna pull off. You’ve rehearsed it enough, you’ve identified the factors, and you’ve had a chance to rehearse it enough to be able to pull it off. You’re going to run into a few surprises; hopefully not too many.”
As a scientist and a physician, Musgrave found the zero-gravity environment of space to be a fascinating environment for exploration.
“You were evolved here for four billion years and you were not evolved to be continuously in the free fall environment,” says Musgrave. “A lot of funny stuff happens and I explore all of those possibilities. I’m the only one that sleeps in free fall. If it’s dark, you don’t even know where the spacecraft is around you. You can’t get a perfect drop, and so there’s a little bit of motion. But with every single joint in a totally neutral position, cause it’s just resting, you lose track. You lose track of your limbs your legs and your arms. It’s totally getting lost. For me this is a delicious thing to do.”
For all of his space travels, Musgrave remembers one experience down on earth as among the most profound of his time with the space program. He was watching the Apollo 11 landing from the visitors’ section of mission control, standing next to the CEO of the company that produced the lander.
“I said, ‘Sir, let’s go out in the parking lot…and he’s looking at me, like, well I’ll just see what this man wants,” Story remembers. “So we go out in the parking lot and he looks up and he says, ‘Story. There’s the moon. Story, do you know, there’s people on that thing we’re looking at?’ I say, ‘Yes sir. We can go back in now.’ Then it dinged on him that I wanted to go outside and just look at the moon and the standard kind of way, not a TV in mission control.
“That was the key moment then, to look at the moon. There’s people on that thing.”
Hummel Planetarium at EKU
Eastern Kentucky University’s Hummel Planetarium is one of the state’s premier resources for science education.
“The Hummel Planetarium is the largest planetarium in Kentucky,” says Planetarium educator Aida Bermudez. “We have seats for 194 people. We have shows for preschool kids – One World, One Sky with Big Bird and Elmo – all the way up to shows about black holes and stars.”
Bermudez says that the planetarium helps bring space exploration to all types of kids through different activities.
“Some kids are very hands-on,” she says. “Some learn visually. When we do a show, we’re also going to have a hands-on activity afterwards. So we’ll have a kid who learns visually see all these things and have that moment that it clicks in the planetarium. The kid who has the hands-on experience can see and touch and learn that way.”
Education doesn’t end with grade school, and adults who visit Hummel often learn new things about space.
“We have adults who have that ‘a-ha’ moment of, ‘Oh, I was taught that in school, but now I get it!’”
Bermudez points out how incredible it is that humans went from the Wright Brothers’ first airplane to space exploration and landing on the moon in a relatively short amount of time.
“We can go into the planetarium and bridge all that [history],” she says. “We can go out into space and talk about the moon, and then say, ‘We went to the moon, now let’s see what happens when we go to other planets.’”
For visitors who have never experienced a planetarium before, a trip to the Hummel is inspiring. Bermudez says kids are often awestruck just walking into the room before the show has even started.
“Then we’ll have the kids do a countdown,” she says. “We count down and take off into space. It gives them that ‘Wow’ moment.”
Hazard’s Challenger Center
In 1999, Hazard, Kentucky, became the home of the 34th Challenger Learning Center in the country, and the first to be located in a rural area. Kentucky Life’s Dave Shuffett visited Hazard’s center in 2004.
“The Challenger Centers were started by the families of the Challenger astronauts who were killed in the 1986 space shuttle explosion,” says Tom Cravens, director of the Challenger Learning Center in Hazard. “Since that was an education mission with [teacher] Christa McAuliffe aboard, they wanted to continue that educational mission. So they began the concept of the Challenger Learning Centers. The first one opened in Houston in 1988.”
Cravens says that one of the goals of the center was to bring immersive science education to Eastern Kentucky.
“Most of the time our students have to travel to Central Kentucky or Cincinnati or to get this type of experience, and now we’re bringing students from those areas to Hazard to get a quality learning experience,” he says.
At the Center, students are put through a simulated mission as members of mission control or the International Space Station. They work as a team and use the resources available to them to problem solve a potential disaster that real astronauts might encounter.
“The school system has written a grant that allows all the sixth-grade students in our school system to be able to travel here and have this experience,” says sixth grade teacher Susan Vance. “As an adult, it’s wonderful. My first year, it was amazing just watching everything. This is now my fourth year coming with the kids and it hasn’t changed at all. Just watching the excitement in their eyes and their faces and when the alerts come on and the panic buttons and they don’t know what to do and they’re really working hard to make the mission a success.”
Cravens explains that the Challenger Center has activities that are in line with the state’s science curriculum, which allows teachers to bring the Center’s lessons seamlessly into what they’re already teaching in the classroom.
Hazard’s Challenger Center exists thanks to the inspiration of former Hazard High School home economics teacher, Alice Noble. After retiring from teaching, she followed her passion for aviation to work for the Civil Air Patrol in Dayton, Ohio. In that role, she visited a Challenger Learning Center, which inspired her to start the campaign to build a center in her hometown.
The Moonbow at Cumberland Falls
In 2013, Kentucky Life featured a segment on one of the state’s natural wonders: the moonbow at Cumberland Falls. Visitors and patient photographers can see this rare occurrence at the falls on clear nights when the moon is full.