By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Everyone had a reason Wednesday afternoon for heading to Yates Hall at Pittsburg State University.
Kansas native Steven Hawley was there to make a presentation called “The Engineering, Scientific and Cultural Legacy of the Space Shuttle,” which attempted to fit into 30 minutes 30 years of human space flight and what we have learned from it.
Several college students laughingly admitted that they understood only 60 percent of what he was saying, but they said they wanted to hear a presentation by a former NASA astronaut.
The only young child in the audience, 7-year-old Jourdain Granere, of Pittsburg, took a page of notes and asked lots of questions because he “likes to play space.”
“I asked my mom to bring me because I think it’s interesting,” he said.
PSU technology professor Randy Winzer simply wanted an autograph on a NASA-themed montage he’s had for 15 years after saving it from a school that no longer wanted it.
“It was issued by Secretary of State Jack Brier’s office, and includes a NASA picture of Steve Hawley much younger,” he pointed out, “and a Kansas flag and photos of the space shuttle.”
Winzer intends to frame it and hang it in his office.
Hawley’s office, by contrast, has included the space shuttles Discovery and Columbia, on which he completed five missions and logged more than 770 hours of flight.
These days, he hangs his hat at the University of Kansas, where he is a professor of physics and astronomy. He recently contributed to a book, “Wings in Orbit,” that is available through Amazon.com.
Born in 1951 in Ottawa, Kan., Hawley counts Salina as his hometown. He attended the University of Kansas, majoring in physics and astronomy. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1978, going on to serve as a mission specialist on Discovery (1984, 1990, 1997) and Columbia (1986, 1999).
“In time, if we don’t already, we’ll come to miss the capabilities the shuttle program represents,” he said.
While Hawley’s discussion included plenty of technical specs for the science and math enthusiasts in the crowd, he peppered it with plenty of anecdotes for those whose imaginations were captured by space flight decades ago.
Take this morsel, for example: A shuttle computer is 0.005 percent as powerful as an Xbox 360. Or this gem: Hawley’s autograph, done in black Sharpie marker, is — or perhaps was — floating in space. He wrote it on a patch that he and fellow crew members attached to the Hubble Space Telescope during a repair mission.
Jourdain, the 7-year-old, wanted to find out how fast the shuttles could travel, how many tiles covered the shuttles, and how many people had ridden in them.
When asked how the end of the shuttle program might affect members of Jourdain’s generation, who would not grow up with dreams of becoming an astronaut, Hawley acknowledged that the metaphorical “carrot” for students to do well in science and math is gone.
“But it’s interesting, I still have a bunch of students that come by my office every semester and they want to know what they need to do to be part of the space program,” Hawley said. “I can still tell kids today they’re really going to have some cool jobs out there, so their sacrifice, their commitment to challenge themselves with the tough courses that maybe aren’t the most fun, they’ll have that carrot.”