Last year, 9-year-old Shant Armenian wrote a letter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) asking the congressman to invite an astronaut to his school. Schiff often receives letters from students, but this one was different, he said.
“Shant wrote me a wonderful, moving letter,” he said. “I get a lot of letters from kids on a variety of things. It was clear that he had deep, abiding interest in space and in science, which I can relate to, because I share it.”
On Friday, Schiff granted the Altadena student his wish. He came to Vahan and Anoush Chamlian Armenian School in La Crescenta with NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, a Caltech alum who gave a presentation on his experience working at the International Space Station.
Armenian said that he felt lucky to have his request granted, and that it was a great experience for the approximately 300 students at the campus who attended the presentation. He became interested in space at a young age, he said, and is regularly involved with Burbank Sidewalk Astronomers, a group that sets up telescopes in the street for passers-by.
Talking to a real astronaut was important to Armenian because he aspires to become one.
“It’s always been my dream to go to Mars,” he said. “I want to be the first person to go to Mars.”
After the presentation, Chamitoff fielded questions from students on the damage the Space Station causes to the ozone layer, his plans to return to space and what inspired him to become an astronaut. Like Armenian, he said he aspired to go to space from a young age, but getting there was a difficult journey.
“The hardest part is to hold on to your dreams,” Chamitoff said. “If you really want to do this, you have to set your own standards for yourself. If you think you’re going to get there, then I think you will.”
Talking to students about space travel is the most important thing astronauts can do to inspire the next generation, he said. “If something like this can encourage kids to study science, math, engineering and technology, it’s really valuable.”
Schiff, who works with NASA every year to bring an astronaut to one of the schools in his district, agreed. “Nothing inspires kids, in my experience, more than a visit from an astronaut. If you look at these faces around the auditorium, they’re so enthralled, he said. This kind of inspiration is so important, and you never know who you’re going to touch.”
“I think we have some future astronauts here in the audience and a lot of future scientists,” he added.
On his last mission in 2008, Chamitoff completed two space walks and floated in space for a total of 13 hours.
“There were a few moments that I just stopped and stared at the Earth with my whole eyes, and it will be with me forever,” he said. “It was phenomenal.”