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Astronaut tells kids to keep exploring
Laments decline of space program
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Astronaut Story Musgrave talks to a group of Piney Groove Middle School students. - photo by Jim Dean
Seven decades older than most of his audience, Story Musgrave encouraged a group of local preschoolers to keep their youthful qualities of learning, exploration, curiosity and wonder.

He said those are all characteristics that helped him become one of America’s most experienced astronauts.

Musgrave spoke at Allaire Ivy League Academy’s recent prekindergarten graduation, which was held at Piney Grove Middle School, and also visited with some middle schoolers that afternoon.

“Do what you’re good at. Do what comes easy. Do what you like to do,” Musgrave said to the group of squirming children in caps and gowns.
“Keep that innocent exploration.”

The preschool graduates seemed to take his advice afterward, dreaming about space flight.

“It’s cool that they go into space,” said Taylor Wallis, 5.

Classmate Haley Pickelsimer, 4, thought about what she might do as an astronaut.

“I would dance around on the moon,” she said.

Though the word astronaut didn’t exist when Musgrave was growing up, he said that’s part of what made it so appealing.

Musgrave joined NASA in 1967 as a scientist-astronaut, leaving his studies to become a surgeon.

“The timing excited my imagination,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s it. That’s who I am.’”

He worked for the association for 30 years, during which he took six flights, including one on each space shuttle. He attributed his many trips to “luck of the draw.”

He said his favorite mission was one aboard the Challenger in 1985 that included 13 experiments.

“We lined ourselves up with the magnetic field of Earth, which is fairly complicated,” he said. “In a way, that was the most demanding mission I’ve done, maybe the most demanding mission anybody’s done. That’s the kind I like.”

Musgrave also led the first Hubble space telescope repair mission.

Since leaving NASA, Musgrave has kept busy as a landscape architect, professor and Disney ride designer. He’s also writing a book and runs a production company.

Still, he found the time to travel from his Orlando, Fla., home to Cumming for the occasion.

Musgrave said after receiving a “passionate” invite to speak from the director of the preschool, he knew he wanted to share some advice and stories.

His 4-year-old daughter, also named Story, saw her father packing his spacesuit and then put on her own, asking if she could come.

Musgrave said as a father of a young child, he loves kids that age.

Bobbing his head as the children sang “This Land is Your Land,” Musgrave stopped to meet and take photos with adoring adults and curious children throughout the ceremony.

Megaera Flemington brought five copies of his biography to get autographed for her family.

Though the family watched the youngest daughter walk the stage and shake hands with Musgrave, it was rising ninth-grader Alexandra Flemington that felt most inspired by meeting him.

Afterward, her mother said the teenager turned to her with a big smile and proclaimed, “I touched an astronaut.”

“How amazing to talk to somebody that’s been into space six times,” Megaera Flemington said. “Maybe some of his magic will rub off [on my children].”

Her youngest daughter, Olivia, was excited about “the big night” all week, she said.

The preschool classes studied space for nearly two months to prepare for Musgrave’s visit, said Ven Subbarao, president of the Ivy League Academy.

“It’s not every day that we have an astronaut coming to Cumming,” he said. “The kids are thrilled.”

Though the celebration encouraged the kids to think big, the waning future of the space program wasn’t far from Musgrave’s mind.

“It’s dead,” he said.

He recalled the time window between when President John F. Kennedy said America would go to the moon and the actual moon landing.

With the current attitude in government, Musgrave lamented that it could be 15 years or more before another American launch.

“The current policy is to think about things,” he said. “Launch nothing, do nothing and build nothing.”