NEW YORK -Three NASA astronauts who flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery during therecent STS-114 mission met with hundreds of students Tuesday to discuss theirspaceflight and hopefully inspire the next generation of explorers.
STS-114 commander EileenCollins and mission specialists Stephen Robinson and Charles Camarda answered questions from children and high schoolstudents at the American of Natural History Museum's Rose Center for Earth andSpace.
"This isreally a chance for us to share what we did on the flight," Collins said.
Collins andher seven-astronaut STS-114 crew returnedto Earth aboard Discovery on Aug. 9 after a 14-day spaceflight to theInternational Space Station (ISS).
In additionto deliveringtons of cargo to the ISS, the shuttle astronauts also tested out new tools andmethods to inspectand repairtheir spacecraft. Robinson conducted three spacewalks with fellow crewmate Soichi Noguchi, of the Japanese Aerospace ExplorationAgency (JAXA), during the flight. Camarda helped inspectDiscovery's heat shield using an orbital boom tipped with laser and camerasensors, as well as transfer cargo.
STS-114pilot James Kelly and mission specialists Wendy Lawrence and Andrew Thomas alsoflew on the spaceflight, which marked NASA's first shuttle mission since the2003 Columbia disaster thatkilled seven astronauts.
"Thismission was an engineer's dream," Camarda said ofSTS-114.
For Camarda, the visit was a homecoming of sorts. The astronautgrew up here in New York's Queens borough and attendedArchbishop Molloy High School before pursuing a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering.Many students and faculty from his high school alma mater came to see the localastronaut.
"It's such agreat achievement to be able to go into space and onto the moon," said Guy Mangelli, 17, an Archbishop Molloy senior, adding that hefollowed the STS-114 flight with interest after the Columbia accident.
Robinson saidthat reaching out to today's youth and encouraging interest in mathematics andother sciences is vital for the future of NASA's space program, as well asexploration as a whole.
"By thetime we have moon bases, these children will be the people who staff those moonbases," Robinson told SPACE.com, adding thattheir enthusiasm also supports astronauts like himself. "The excitement we seehere we take back with us. We go back charged and pumped and ready to carryon."
Today'smuseum visit was the first stop in the STS-114 astronauts' New York City tour.
Collinswill appear on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman tonight, then - with Camarda - throw out the first pitch at the Aug. 31 New YorkMets baseball game while Robinson and fellow Noguchi look on. The astronautswill then move on to NASA's Small Business Solutions Conference here in NewYork, NASA officials said.
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