January 27, 2010
Former astronaut Wendy Lawrence elicited giggles when she told the middle school girls how you go to the bathroom in space.
And she got “eewws” when she told them that urine is treated and recycled as drinking water aboard the International Space Station.
But she got their rock-solid attention — and nodding approval from teachers — when she told them the one thing she wanted them to remember from her talk: “If you are willing to work hard, you can make your dream come true,” she told about 250 girls at Swigert Aerospace Academy on Wednesday. “And you’re taking the first step right now, by staying in school.”
Lawrence, a mission specialist on four shuttle missions and a retired Navy captain, told them she was 10 years old and watching the first steps on the moon when she first dreamed of traveling in space.
“It took 25 years for my dream to come true,” she said. “It took a lot of hard work, but when I looked out that (shuttle) window the first time I knew it was worth it.”
Lawrence is in Colorado Springs this week giving presentations to students and teachers.
She also participated Wednesday in the U.S. Space Foundation’s first Festival of Science at its Discovery Institute, adjacent to Swigert. The festival for D-11 students and parents featured science exhibits, experiments and information from organizations such as Cool Science, the Butterfly Pavilion and the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society.
Jessica Gurr, 11 and a sixth-grader at Swigert, said she enjoyed Lawrence’s talk and appreciated that she answered a lot of the students’ questions.
She later attended the festival with her father and said she enjoyed learning about things at each of the displays.
Lawrence, a 1981 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said she enjoys talking to students and helping them see possibilities for their future.
While she is talking primarily to female audiences in Colorado Springs this week, she said it’s increasingly important to get all students excited about math and science.
She said she’s participated in Sally Ride festivals, which were started for girls but have been opened to boys because interest in science for both genders drops off in middle school.
“Space can be used as a great motivator,” she said, adding that hands-on and experiential education helps keep children in school.
She said she had a lot of positive influences that helped her along the way, including a mother who made learning fun and a father and grandfather who graduated from the Naval Academy.
But she also had tough times, such as the six years her father was held prisoner during the Vietnam War.
“We all have things we have to overcome,” she said in an interview. “What I tell students is that I hope you have that moment when you realize there’s something you want to go for, and it keeps nagging at your to keep you moving forward.
“It’s a magic moment when you realize you are living your dream.”
Call the writer at 636-0251.