Kemper County High School students have their photo taken in front of NASA headquarters as part of a recent PACES trip.
Kemper County High School students have their photo taken in front of NASA headquarters as part of a recent PACES trip.

Special to The Messenger

Beginning at about 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 2 excited members of PACES began rolling out of bed to meet their charter bus to travel to the John C. Stennis Space Center located near the Louisiana state line in Picayune.

Planning for the trip had begun back in March 2016, about six months before these PaceSetters were even seniors. After several months of collaboration between PACES and members of the NASA space facility, PACES was ready to get rolling. At 6:30 a.m. the bus departed on what was to become the most informative and enthusiastically presented Business and Industry Education site visit ever undertaken by PACES.

From the instant the students got off the bus at the Space Center, everything about the day seemed geared to be perfect for an "Outside the school building", STEM (Science - Technology - Engineering - Mathematics) experience.

The day began touring in the conference room of the NASA headquarters building, with the brief being done by none other that a KCHS Alumnus, Randy Galloway, who is the current Deputy Director of the Stennis Space Center. Galloway introduced himself and quickly declared he had long awaited the day that an opportunity to greet high school students from his home town area would occur. Throughout his briefing he offered words of encouragement saying, "Dream big dreams even if you are from a small town'. In answer to a student question Galloway responded, "Science and math had to be a big part of the preparation to enter a STEM career, it might not be the easiest path but the reward would be realized at journey's end."

The Deputy Director assured us that all efforts had been made to give us a grand tour of the entire Space Center. True to his word after his briefing we were turned over to Jeff Henderson, the Rocket Testing Unit Lead Engineer, who just so happened to be from Kemper County as well. Also joining us at that time was, Clyde Dease, the former Technical Manager of Stennis Space Center's Rocket Testing Unit and Center Operations.  I quietly thought to myself, "This is going to be an Awesome day."

 After touring the space rocket testing area, PACES went on to visit the following areas: Rocketdyne Engine Assembly, National Data Buoy and Weather Center and the University of Southern Mississippi Marine Science Facility. The Marine Science Center was an amazing experience.  

Vernon Asper, the Professor of Marine Science in the facility described the operating principles of their mini submarines and undersea research vehicles. Being in the research center allowed our PaceSetters to get and up close look at robotic subs. Three of the PACES member got the thrill of their lives when they were allowed to operate the underwater robotic research trainer vehicle and used the trainer robot to complete underwater recovery tasks in a nearby aquarium.

The students enjoyed themselves and learned plenty at the same time.  They were exposed to a vast amount of scientific information regarding man's achievements in aeronautical science, medicine; engineering and huge new wealth of information about STEM related careers at the center and other areas. What a great learning experience. Being taught and getting to shadow technological professionals in their work environment at the same time.

At the end of the day, the expression on the students faces told the story and their comments revealed even more about the impression that visit had upon them. Braylon Clark commented:

“The best part of the NASA Center visit was visiting where they built and maintained the weather and research ocean buoys. It made me feel very proud of my state knowing that we are the only state that cares for the buoys from the cradle to the grave. It made me feel proud to be a Kemper Countian”.

As the day wound down and it was regrettably time to leave, Clyde Dease bid us farewell and added this bit of advice: “Every journey begins with the identification of a destination. Decide now where you want to go in life and your journey will take you there."