For the last year I have been on a journey into the life of a man I did not know, but who has taught me a lot about myself and the history of us as Americans and explorers.
In 2017 I attended space camp in Huntsville Alabama, through a grant by Honeywell with their Space Educators Academy. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done in my professional career. Along with incredible professional development and some unique experiences I will never forget, I was able to meet people who have in the last 2 years become my “space tribe” and I have learned so much from these people, it would take a book to even come close to sharing.
At space camp, my crew trainer Spencer, who would later go on to become the LA Teacher of the Year got me hooked up with the NASA DRMO website. Basically it’s a website where you can request old space artifacts that NASA no longer wants. The idea being that schools and other education institutions can use these things to share spaceflight with others across the country.
At first, I requested a piece of the space shuttle and was given a space shuttle tile and later a piece of the thermal blanket. When my artifacts arrived, I could not believe NASA was giving me these museum grade pieces. It was humbling and thrilling to know a piece of history was now going to be in my classroom for student use.
A few months after my shuttle tile I got an e-mail that new artifacts had been uploaded to the sight. One of them had the description of “American Flag”. I thought to myself this would be an incredible piece to display in our science wing, so I filled out the paperwork and applied for the artifact. From the very non-descript picture, I did not think anything off it. I assumed the flag was …. Well you know a flag.
However, boy was I ever in for a surprise. When the artifact made it to FED EX to be shipped to me, the company asked for 600$ in shipping!!! I was in shock. I even asked the manager to take it out of its case and fold it up. He laughed at me and said sir, your flag is enormous, and I think it’s made of metal. Metal?? I was astounded. What was this thing?
When it arrived in Phoenix last Christmas, my new student teacher and I were astounded at what NASA had sent us. In the packing manifest all it said was “American Flag – Value 60$” which I assumed was insurance purchases. But when we read the plaque no one in this chain of events every mentioned that this flag was Astronaut Alan Beans Retirement Flag from the Johnson Space Centers Materials Division. In case you do not know; Captain Bean was the 4th man to walk on the moon and an American Hero.
So with that discovery, we set out to find out if he would speak with us about this. After all it is the government, and my first inclining was that someone had a made a serious mistake! After weeks of calling he finally wrote me back and we talked on the phone.
I had never talked to an astronaut before. Much less an Apollo astronaut, and in our 20 min conversation was a moment I will treasure the rest of my life.
Captain Bean told me that the flag was supposed to go on Skylab Two and that what I had here was a real “Nifty Piece” A real “Nifty Piece” indeed. He went on to tell us the story of Skylab thru his eyes and he said he was prouder of his work on Skylab than his moon mission which is what he is known for. I asked him if he would come and dedicate the piece as we are making plans to display it on a future STEM Wall of Fame in our High School. He even took the time to sign some pictures for us to go along with the display and we are still fundraising to this day to make it all happen. …. But what he told me still resonates with me today, and that is his words of advice to my students.
He said: “Do something every day to accomplish your dream. ” “Work on something every day to reach your goal.” He told me the story of how that is what he did to get to where did, from early on in school. And it was this advice that my kids heard and still remember after listening to him on the phone that day.. A piece of advice that carries significant weight for any generation.
This past summer we made plans to meet Captain Bean in Tucson during space fest. I was excited to share with him our progress and tell him in person how grateful we were to him for his help in our project. Unfortunately, we never had that rendezvous, as Captain Bean passed away 4 weeks before the event.
Today I am flying home from Houston’s Johnson Space Center. I took a tour of the Skylab mockup and met engineers and NASA folks that had answers to so many of my questions. A big revelation being the flag itself was more than lily a piece of a Saturn V rocket. A truly incredible revelation. But as I walked the hallowed halls of mission control and Captain Beans display in the space center, I can’t help but keep thinking of these words of wisdom and how even today we can learn from those that have gone before us. My journey with his flag is not over, but what it has taught me and my kids has been priceless.