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Four-Time Shuttle Astronaut Inspiring Today’s Youth at SpaceCamp

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The early days of America’s space program inspired a future four-time space shuttle astronaut who now works to inspire the youth of today to reach for their goals — including a voyage to Mars.

Dr. Donald Thomas ventured into space during four flights on the space shuttle. Each flight was a personal hallmark of achievement and a passion he shares with children and teens around the globe.

On Friday, Thomas will visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — home to the popular SpaceCamp and Aviation Challenge STEM-related camps. He hopes to inspire future engineers, pilots, and astronauts on the day they graduate from SpaceCamp.

Candid view of NASA astronaut Don Thomas in space with a pouch drink. [NASA]

“I was inspired to become an astronaut when I was just six years-old as I watched the launch of Alan Shepard,” Dr. Thomas said as he stood near a large scale mock-up of the space shuttle. “That forever changed my life and career direction and motivated me to become an astronaut.”

Dressed in his official blue flight suit, decorated with the NASA mission patches, Thomas always carries a smile as he speaks to groups. His travels have taken him to the Kennedy Space Center, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom during the last year.

Thomas has visited the Alabama space center with his special brand of educational outreach for 11 years. His multimedia space flight presentation and great stories continue to keep every child’s attention during his visits.

“I see the spark in the eye, I see the enthusiasm of the students, and I enjoy answering their questions,” Dr. Thomas explained as we walked past the historic Saturn V rocket on Monday. “I told the students recently that ‘I am so envious of your youth because you are looking at missions to Mars in your future'”.

Thomas will visit the Space and Rocket Center on Friday, July 5 and August 9, 2019, to meet with graduates of SpaceCamp and the public. He will also take center stage for Lunch with an Astronaut, where guests listen to fun conversation and ask questions of his career.

The crew of space shuttle Columbia, with Dr. Thomas second from right, after landing in July 1997. [NASA]

Thomas’ book Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission (2014) details his second space flight with great inside stories and full-color photographs. The book also gives a tip of the hat to the 26 fellow astronauts from his home state of Ohio, including John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Dr. Judy Resnik.

The astronaut added with a smile, “I always make the students promise if anyone goes to Mars, that they have to promise to call me when they get back. I want to hear about their mission.”

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)

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Charles Atkeison

Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.

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