By Rachel Christian
Students at Neptune Elementary School in St. Cloud greeted an out-of-this-world guest Friday morning.
WonderWorks, the Orlando attraction best known for its “upside down” house on International Drive, partnered with NASA astronaut Don Thomas for Friday’s visit. Thomas appeared at eight Central Florida schools, including four in Osceola County,
to discuss his time in space and promote WonderWorks’ 20th anniversary.
The group of Neptune Elementary fifth graders were on their best behavior for the visit, but even the most mannerly students let out excited gasps and whispers when Thomas strode into the room, clad in his cobalt blue NASA jumpsuit.
Thomas served as an astronaut on four space missions from 1994-97. He spent 44 total days in space over his four missions, and orbited the Earth over 690 times.
Thomas made his intergalactic presentation to about 35 children in the school’s media center while the rest of the school watched a live-stream in their classrooms.
The retired spaceman captivated his young audience with tales of zero-gravity adventure and fascinating space facts, such as how long it took his shuttle to exit Earth’s atmosphere (8.5 minutes) or how long it took his space craft to make a full orbit around the Earth (1.5 hours).
He discussed the daily logistics of exercising, sleeping, showering and eating in space.
And, of course, going to the bathroom.
“For everyone watching in the classrooms, I’m sorry to tell you the kids here voted thumbs up on talking about the toilet,” Thomas said with a smile. “They told me Neptune Elementary was a special school, and I can see that.”
Potty talk aside, a central theme ran through Thomas’ entire presentation – it takes hard work to make dreams come true.
The retired astronaut, who obtained a science doctorate from Cornell University in 1980, shared the discouragement he felt after being rejected from three space missions before finally making the cut when he was 37 years old.
“No one is just going to call you up one day and say, ‘Hey do you want to be an astronaut?’” Thomas told the students. “You have to go out there and make it happen.”
Over 550 Central Florida schools entered into the “Win a Visit From an Astronaut” promotion hosted by WonderWorks, and eight winners were selected last month.
The three other Osceola County schools Thomas visited were Parkway Middle School, Partin Settlement Elementary and Highlands Elementary.
Students at all eight schools received free tickets to the upside down house.
The local attraction has given away 20,000 tickets through various 20th anniversary promotions. Festivities culminated Saturday with a celebration at WonderWorks’ I-Drive location, where Thomas spent the day fielding questions from curious visitors.