FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A second-grader sat in the front row of his classroom dreaming of one day becoming an astronaut.
Eight-year-old Leroy Chiao looked out the window at the sky and knew he wanted to be up there with the stars. Years later, Chiao made his own dream come true when he made his first trip into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1994.
Chiao would go on to fly in two other space shuttle missions, aboard the space shuttles Endeavor and Discovery in 1996 and 2000 respectively. In 2004, Chiao led Expedition 10 to the International Space Station, where he and his crew spent more than six months orbiting the Earth.
Last week, Chiao made several speaking visits in Fairbanks. He gave a talk at the University of Alaska Museum of the North and at the Westmark Hotel, but he also spent much of his time in schools speaking to students who, like him, may be staring out the window at the stars.
Chiao spoke to students at Immaculate Conception and Monroe Catholic Schools, at Watershed and Star of the North charter schools, Nordale elementary and Tanana junior high, North Pole middle and Chinook charter school.
Chiao has spent more than 200 days in space and more than 36 in Extra-
Vehicular Activity, also known as space walking. When he was in second grade, however, that was all just a dream.
Knowing he wanted to be an astronaut, Chiao spent the next 15 years of his life making sure he would be prepared when the time came to apply for a job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. Chiao told Fairbanks students last week about the work he did to prepare during his time in school so he could do what he loved.
Chiao told students how he worked extra hard in school to learn as much as possible and to stay in shape so he could become an astronaut - a job that requires a sharp mind as well as a physically fit body.
Wendy Demers, the head teacher at Chinook, says students at her school had a great time hearing from Chiao about what it’s like to be in space.
“The thing that stuck with me that I would remember was his drive and interest in what he wanted to do and how it encompassed everything: taking care of his body, studying, staying healthy,” Demers says.
At Chinook, Chiao showed students a short video of his mission on the space station, and took the time to go from room to room meeting with students and asking them about their work and their future plans. Chiao also answered questions from students during his visits, which Demers said spanned the gamut, from how the astronauts slept in space to how they urinated in space to how he felt being away from home for so long.
Chiao retired from NASA in 2005 and now works in several capacities, as a motivational speaker, as an executive in the private space industry and as a university professor.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com
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