Twelve-year-old Evan Claysey wants to be an astronaut.
Former NASA Astronaut Dan Brandenstein offered some words of encouragement to him and about 150 other children and parents yesterday afternoon at the Challenger Learning Center of Lucas County in Oregon.
Mr. Brandenstein spoke on the 20th anniversary year of the original Challenger Center in Houston, founded by June Scobee Rodgers, wife of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee, and other surviving family members of that mission.
The space shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven on board.
"The disaster was unfortunate; it's history," Mr. Brandenstein told The Blade after his presentation.
"The real key is to inspire the next generations."
The former astronaut, who flew on four shuttle missions - three as commander - said the NASA space program could return to the moon by 2020, potentially set up research operations there, and eventually send a manned flight to Mars.
"The young folks sitting in this room, one of them could very well be the first person to set foot on Mars," Mr. Brandenstein told his audience.
He described topics varying from seeing sunrises from space - 16 of them in a 24-hour orbit period and "pictures do not do it justice" - to experiencing a space shuttle launch, to sleeping and hair care 250 miles above the Earth's surface.
"It's pretty laid-back," he said of the launch, as astronauts only have to hit a few buttons and flip a few switches.
Mr. Brandenstein said shuttle astronauts can spend up to two and a half hours waiting on their backs in the shuttle before it's unbolted from the launch structure.
"The noise isn't too bad," Mr. Brandenstein said of takeoff, although the shuttle vibrates so much when the engines ignite that it's hard to read the instrument panels.
Although he was in the control room during the Challenger disaster, Mr. Brandenstein said he has high hopes for the future of the space program.
"I think the United States has some very firm goals of future space exploration," he said.
"It should be a very exciting and rewarding career."
Evan, the would-be astronaut, has attended two space camps in Bloomington, Ill., and will be at the center in Oregon this summer for a third.
He said he wants to be a scientist, maybe doing experiments in space.
"Working at mission control would be sort of cool too," he added.