A Visit from Space

Earth viewed from space

A set of happy circumstances meant a surprise visit for one California school.
Image: Shutterstock

Retired Air Force Colonel Donald McMonagle was in fourth grade when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet, and he vividly remembers the amazing photographs that came home with the first astronaut.

“I actually got my ruler out of my desk to prove to myself that the Earth was round,” he said, remembering using a ruler and a book to prove the curvature of the horizon from those photos.

Now, he’s seen that sight with his own eyes. McMonagle has three spaceflights under his belt from the early 90s, and he’s spent more than three weeks outside the Earth’s atmosphere. He’s paying forward that moment of childhood inspiration by visiting students at La Honda Elementary School in Lampoc, California.

In a forty-five minute after-school presentation, McMonagle shared stories about brushing his teeth and doing research aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, as well as answering questions about about daily life in orbit.

La Honda’s luck in scoring a personal visit from an astronaut really came down to a neat set of coincidences. Susana Hernandez, the president of La Honda’s PTA, arranged the visit because her brother-in-law works with McMonagle and knew that the astronaut would be in the area. All of the plans were last minute, but they came together beautifully.

The timing was perfect, too, as the third-grade classes were studying space that same week, and in fact had launched their own rockets just the week before McMonagle’s arrival.

McMonagle, who was once told that the only future for him as a pilot was in the commercial sector, had two lessons he wanted the students to take home from his presentation: Never lower their aim, and never stop learning.

“I can tell you that you are just starting your life, and there’s all kinds of things ahead of you that you can launch into many different kinds of careers,” he said. “Only your imagination can determine how far you can go.”

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