January 30, 2011

Planning on her own moon landing

Remembering the 40th anniversary of Alan Shepard Jr.'s 
flight to the moon on Apollo 14.

Aspiring astronaut Kealey Cela on the steps of Pinkerton Academy.
She is inspired by Pinkerton alumnus Alan Shepard, and knows the sky's the limit.
Union Leader Correspondent
Alan Shepard, second from left in back
 row, on the steps of Pinkerton Academy, 1938.
DERRY -- It’s likely astronaut and hometown hero Alan Shepard imagined himself exploring outer space even before he was old enough to read.
He loved looking up into the East Derry night sky, beyond the stars.
By the time he was old enough to pick up a Buck Rogers Amazing Stories comic book in the 1930s, it’s certain Shepard had already seen his future.
It was 40 years ago this week that Shepard became America’s fifth “moon man,” navigating Apollo 14 to outer space and back.
Whatever fueled Shepard’s dreams, it was enough to propel him into the history books 10 years before his historic moon walk, as the first American to navigate outer space in 1961.
Today, there are still plenty of kids with other-worldly dreams — that, according to a recent online survey conducted by New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News in which
 about half the 100 respondents agreed that kids still want to be astronauts.
For one such kid, Kealey Cela, the dream has already become somewhat of a reality.
A 16-year-old Pinkerton Academy junior and member of the JROTC program there, Cela is all about aeronautics. She has been to space camp three summers in a row, and even experienced what it’s like to be on a mission to the moon.
“They have these real space shuttle simulators, and they give you different anomalies you have to solve, like on a real mission. If you don’t solve them, you fail. So you have to learn quickly about team work. It’s so real and so amazing,” said Cela.
Because her dad is in the military, Cela learned early on to love jet-propulsion, and the adventures it brought, as she moved from base-to-base in Japan, Hawaii and California, among other places. It was a middle-school teacher in Virginia, however, who encouraged her to pursue the sciences after she had won her third straight science fair.
After moving to Derry three years ago, she finally found her way to NASA’s Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
Her fate was sealed.
“I had always wanted to be a pilot.
But space camp was life-changing for me. It set me on a career path. I’ve actually met some astronauts and
 have realized that there are so many opportunities for women in space,” Cela said. 

Julie Shepard Jenkins, front and center, at home with her
family shortly after the return of Apollo 14.
“I would like to be the first woman on the moon.” 
She said with NASA’s development of the Ares rockets, advanced technology which will allow astronauts to first land on the moon and then relaunch to Mars, she feels like it’s fateful.
“This is perfect timing for me, to be getting ready to go to the Naval Academy just as they’re exploring this new era of space travel. Maybe I’ll be the first woman on the moon and the first astronaut to go to Mars,” said Cela. 
There is at least one person on Earth who knows that if you can dream it, you can make it happen. Juliana Shepard Jenkins, daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, continues to promote space travel through a non-profit scholarship program in her father’s memory. 
“All my life I was surrounded by these brilliant men, these seven astronauts who were hand-picked to make sure the space program succeeded. Like Lewis and Clarke, they were pioneers in space. They not only jumped at the chance to travel beyond this Earth, they had to earn it through hard work,” said Jenkins, now of Texas. 
She was 20 years old when her father made his second journey into space in 1971. 
“I was never worried about him going into space, although I do remember his first flight, when I was just 10. 
I asked him if they were going to be able to get him back down, and he said, ‘Obviously, they won’t put me up if they can’t get me down,’ which was the perfect answer for a 10-year-old,” Jenkins said. 
“By the time he was ready for Apollo 14, I had seen how much it meant to him to return to space. Dad had been grounded with an ear infection right after his first flight. 
He spent the next 10 years constantly working with doctors to get his problem fixed so he could return to space,” Jenkins said. “You know those tubes they put into children’s ears to fix ear infections? 
They’re called ‘Shepard tubes’ because they were first used to help my dad get back into the program, and back in space.” 
In 1984 the Mercury Seven Foundation was established by Shepard and the other surviving Mercury Seven astronauts as a non-profit organization that awards scholarships to college students pursuing careers in aeronautics. 
Her father retired shortly after his successful Apollo 14 mission, and died in 1998. 
Jenkins continues to support his work, and speak to students whenever she can about the importance of America’s space program. 
“I don’t know exactly how traveling into space changed my father’s perspective, but I know he would sit outside and look at the stars at night. He’d study them constantly. He had such a great smile, and I think part of it was that he’d lived his dream,” Jenkins said. “I think for him it was worth it to do what JFK had said: put a man into space. There was no manual. My father — these astronauts — accomplished it, and learned so much from each other along the way.” 

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