KEARNEY, Neb. — Dream big.
That’s what fourth- and fifth-grade students at Park Elementary School learned Monday from retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson.
Anderson spent more than an hour with a group of roughly 100 students. With the aid of physical props, goofy faces and exaggerated voices, Anderson taught kids about space travel and shared his life story.
Anderson, a native of Ashland, is known for his determination. He applied 15 times to become an astronaut for NASA.
“I hold the record, apparently, for the most tries,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t easy; it required a lot of perseverance.”
Anderson served as an astronaut from 1998-2013, though he began his career with NASA in 1983 by working in the Johnson Space Center.
Anderson who went into space twice, once for a duration of 152 days and again for 15 days, had plenty of questions to answer Monday.
“How did you become an astronaut?”
“How do astronauts use the bathroom?”
“How would you rescue someone if they got lost in space?”
Anderson answered these questions and more as he shared his story.
He told students about spacewalks, about working on the International Space Station, about the NASA research funded by tax dollars and his own personal journey.
Anderson even shared the story of how he became interested in space travel as a child in Ashland by watching Apollo 8 orbit the moon in 1968.
After the presentation, Anderson said that his goal was to inspire children and to show them that if he can reach his dream, so can they.
“Anything I accomplished in my life, they are totally capable of accomplishing that and more,” he said.
According to some students at Park, Anderson did inspire them to dream.
“Always believe in your dreams, don’t give up, and keep going,” fifth-grader Gloria Littrell said.
She added that she was impressed with his perseverance and how Anderson never gave up on his dream to become an astronaut.
Fifth-grader Kennedy Hurt said she appreciated the laughs that Anderson brought to the classroom.
“I liked how he didn’t just tell us the facts, he kind of acted it out and added a little bit of humor to it,” she said.
Teachers prepared the students for Anderson’s visit by showing them a documentary about Anderson and explaining the rigorous dedication to math, science and reading that it took for Anderson to reach his dream.
“Clayton Anderson is a lifelong learner, was a serious student and athlete. He was persistent in his efforts to become an astronaut, not giving up after 14 times turned down as a astronaut. I was hoping the students would see a very positive role model, who was a good student, hard worker, determined, with a great sense of humor and down-to-earth. One of our themes this year has to do with dreaming big. He is and always has been a dreamer,” said Park Principal Katie Mathews.
Mathews described Anderson’s presentation as “an absolute riot” with students on the edge of their chairs as they absorbed the lesson.
Now retired, Anderson is writing and teaching aerospace engineering part time at Iowa State University.
Anderson’s memoir, “The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut,” was published in June.
In addition to his presentation at Park, Anderson also visited the Kearney Area Children’s Museum to sign copies of his memoir.