Maine Astronaut Inspires Kids to Reach for the Stars 

On March 27th, York, Maine native and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy leaves for the International Space Station.He’s inspiring the next generation of astronauts to reach for the stars as well.”Hi Susan, maybe I can come and visit you in the fall or later next year,” said the astronaut. “Oh if you do you are going to have a lot of very, very excited people to welcome you,” said Susan Jonason, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center of Maine. It’s not every day that you get to talk to an astronaut, especially one from your own backyard. “There is no better way to get the kids excited about it than to hear firsthand from someone like Chris Cassidy.”The York native departs for his 6 month mission at the International Space Station in one month, and when he returns, he wants to help inspire the next generation of astronauts. Recently he chatted with middle school students from Thomaston via Skype. “We live in, population wise, a really small state. So to know that a student from one of our state’s high schools is one of the only Maine astronauts ever and currently is awesome,” said Thomaston science teacher Michael Dennett. That Skype conversation came after their field trip to the Challenger Learning Center of Maine, a popular field trip destination that provides an immersive simulation of space exploration. Susan Jonason and Jennifer Therrien run the center in Bangor. “The things that we do in our mission simulate the type of training that you would do beforehand if you were going to be at mission control or if you were going to be an astronaut. They train for years for their mission, so our scenario is, we tell them, you are here as if you are an astronaut or mission controller who is doing a training simulation to prepare you for your experience,” said Therrien. They cover basic skills in communication and problem solving that an astronaut would go through before flight. But you can’t exactly replicate the 2 and a half years of training that Cassidy went through. “The thing about this training is it’s for the international space station, which means international training. I’ve spend quite a bit of time in Star City and then a few trips in Germany, which is where the European space agency is, and Japan where the Japanese Space Agency has their training, and them some time, about half my time here in Houston.” But Chris agrees, some of the most valuable training, came during his days as a wildcat at York High School.”Where was Chris Cassidy when he was their age? What was he into? What was he thinking about? What are the things that led him to do what he’s doing now?””You know, I was sort of just your average kid, going along and doing my sports and doing my homework that I had to do, handing everything in on time, never early, never late. It wasn’t until I realized that I was going to, that college applications required certain test scores and I really started to buckle down and realize that what I was doing then mattered to my future.””A young person who might be thinking at their world going forward is sort of defined because of where we are, and then to realize that no, I can be that too. Someone else has already done it. That means, you know, why can’t I?