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Astronaut Lands at CNG in Bogotá

By Jay Gramolini
Astronaut Lands at CNG in Bogotá

It was a proud moment when NASA chose one of us to be an astronaut. Ricky Arnold was born and raised in Maryland. His first overseas teaching position was at the Casablanca American School in Morocco. He and his family then took positions in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Romania.
It was while teaching in Romania that this overseas math and science teacher was hired by NASA. The selection process and training were, as you can imagine, quite rigorous. He was selected as a Mission Specialist for the Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 Mission to the International Space Station. On his first space walk he helped to install the S6 Truss Segment and deploy the final set of Solar Arrays to bring the ISS up to full power.
This year, the NASA Astronaut Appearance Office approved Ricky’s visit to Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogotá, Colombia, which was his first appearance at a school outside of the U.S. and Canada. He gave presentations to over 2,000 students, parents, and faculty members in the CNG Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, as well as a presentation to the Young Astronomers Club at the Bogotá Planetarium.
Ricky’s Powerpoint slideshow and videos presented the various aspects of the mission and revealed some of the routines and challenges of living in space.
Our esteemed guest conveyed many messages, among them:
- Pursue your dreams.
- Studying STEM will ensure you a bright, exciting, and fulfilling future.
- The photo of Earthrise is a symbol to all of us that we must preserve this precious planet. We must stop damaging our rainforests, oceans, and the thin eggshell of an atmosphere that protects and sustains us.
- Hope for the future is flying over 300 kilometers above our heads everyday. The International Space Station is the greatest and most technologically advanced endeavor humans have ever embarked upon. It is an example of what humans can do when we work together, cooperating to solve problems and to advance science. From space there are no borders.
The audience was visibly inspired as Ricky told the story of Franklin Chang Diaz from Costa Rica, who with seven shuttle missions is a record holder. As a scientist, Diaz is designing new rockets, but perhaps just as importantly, he moved his company to his native country to bring it jobs, knowledge, and international recognition.
Our astronaut knew his audience and did his homework. He showed us photos of George Zamka, a shuttle pilot, commander, and flight manager who is of Colombian descent. Other photos were from the ISS of Colombia, the Amazon and Orinoco basins, and Bogotá during the day and at night.
Not all astronauts are good public speakers, but Ricky was captivating. Praise from students and faculty was effusive. An experienced high school English teacher summed it up, “It is unanimous among students and faculty: that was the best presentation ever at CNG.” The students were also fascinated to learn that, as part of his NASA training, Ricky was an aquanaut in Aquarius, the world’s only undersea research laboratory on the seafloor off Florida.
Selected for NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) Missions #13 and #15, he spent 10 days on the bottom of the ocean and was the pilot of the DeepWorker Submersible, a small submarine that serves as a stand-in for the Space Exploration Vehicle that will one day be used to explore the surface of an asteroid.
Always an inveterate adventurer, Ricky spent his long weekend hiking to the mountain crater Lake Guatavita (from where we get the legend of El Dorado), bird watching in the National Parks of Chicaque and Chingaza, and kayaking a 16-kilometer stretch of the Rio Negro.
Ricky was given a tour of CNG’s 10-hectare campus, with its commanding view of Bogotá.
He was very impressed with the fact that CNG offers over 40 AP and Pre-AP courses as well as by the questions and scientific curiosity of the students. When asked if NASA will be looking to recruit more teachers in the future his answer was a resounding, “Yes.”
He told the audience that as a young boy he dreamed of being like Jacques Cousteau, an aquanaut diving in the world’s oceans, or like Neil Armstrong an astronaut exploring space, or like Jackie Robinson, a professional baseball player… “Well two out of three is not bad,” he joked.
“Dare to dream,” Ricky told CNG’s students. “But remember that it also takes determination and hard work. Look around the auditorium at all these international teachers. They can help you make your dreams come true.”

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