Representatives from organizations across the city gathered at the Columbus Visitors Center Tuesday to celebrate a NASA award given to the Coca-Cola Space Science Center for its efforts in coordinating a NASA Community Day, known here as Columbus Goes to Mars.
The CCSSC, the National Infantry Museum, the Columbus Museum, Muscogee County Schools and the Columbus Visitors Center were all on hand for the Group Achievement Award celebration.
CCSSC Executive Director Shawn Cruzen said that he and two staff members returned from the Columbus State University Christmas break to find envelopes from NASA on their desks. Inside were certificates of special recognition, presented by NASA director Jim Bridenstine. Along with Cruzen, Assistant Director Wanja Ngugi and Michael Johnson, the director for Student Engagement and Community Programs, also received certificates.
“That was a very nice surprise. I’ve never opened an envelope and had something signed by the NASA director sitting on my desk. That was really great,” Cruzen said. “This event was the first ever, off-site, National Community Day for the Kennedy Space Center Staff.”
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NASA invites its local community annually to visit the Kennedy Space Center to meet its scientists, technicians and program managers, and get a feel for the work that these people do at NASA every day. When NASA decided to expand the program outside of the Kennedy Space Center for the first time in 2017, Cruzen got the call.
“How would you feel about hosting our first ever off-site NASA Community Day?” Cruzen said he was asked. “And we said, that would be fantastic.”
About 20 NASA scientists and technicians came to Columbus for a two-day program in the spring of 2017. They brought hands-on science activities into Muscogee County middle schools, and talked about NASA programs and space missions to about 500 students.
The next day, they expanded the program at the Space Science Center, the Columbus Museum and the National Museum where youngsters launched air rockets, saw functioning NASA robots and programmed their own robots, learned about NASA careers and other activities. More than 2,000 people attended the event.
“Oh my gosh, the kids were so excited,” said Tiffany Hoffman, assistant director of education at the National Infantry Museum. “Who wouldn’t be, to be able to drop something with a parachute from a second-story building, make a rocket go up in the air? And robots, actual working, purposeful robots. Just to see their faces get excited, it was amazing.”
“When kids get to meet these people that really work in the space program, who either are astronauts or help the astronauts go to space, it makes it real for them,” Cruzen said. Students see that “these are real people, and there’s a real path for me to actually pursue that kind of career.”