More thanfifty years ago, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun worked with Walt Disney ona series of animated TV specials with the goal of exciting the American publicabout space exploration.
Half acentury later, NASA is still partnering with Disney, and on Monday, it was thecrew ofshuttle Endeavour that took the spotlight at the Epcot and Magic Kingdomtheme parks in Florida.
"It'sso appropriate that we are here at Epcot where our founder Walt Disney's dreamscome true," said the park's vice president, Jim MacPhee. "We'restanding before Mission: SPACE. What better place to think about [their]accomplishments than right here."
Theceremonies honoring the seven astronauts began at Epcot's space flight-themedattraction, Mission: SPACE, whereteacher-turned-missionspecialist Barbara Morgan was singled out for her achievements.
"We'realso standing in front of the Wall of Honor, where we have paid tribute toastronauts who have traveled before us and today's a very special day, becausewe are honoring our newest dreamer, astronaut Barbara Morgan," saidMacPhee, who was joined by Joyce Winterton, NASA's assistant administrator foreducation. Together they welcomed Morgan, who, with the accompaniment of aDisney-style countdown complete with billowing smoke and silver confetti,revealed her inspirational message on an etched-glass plaque.
"I dohave some words to share, and they say, 'Reach for your dreams, the sky is nolimit,'" said Morgan.
The plaque,which hangs along a wall with similar quotes from Neil Armstrong, Carl Sagan,John F. Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh, was positioned next to one honoringteacher in space Christa McAuliffe, for whom Morgan was back-up on the ill-fated1986 Challenger mission.
Morganspoke to collectSPACE.com about the plaque.
"Ithink it's great and it's quite honoring, and more than anything, I just thankDisney for honoring exploration and education. This is not a me thing, thishonors all teachers and students and space explorers and my crewmates,"Morgan explained. "And, it really is pretty neat."
Morgan wenton to say that she thought the partnership between NASA and Disney was"wonderful."
"Firstof all, you know they inspire kids to dream and to imagine and it takesdreaming and imagination to make all this stuff happen," she said.
They are also keen on education, and do a lot for and with education, and youcan't do space exploration without good education. They go hand in hand. Youhave to have educated folks and dreamers, imaginers who can put all of thistogether."
Morgan'sSTS-118 commander, Scott Kelly, agreed.
"Disneyis known as a company that can package science and education very well [and]make it exciting, especially with the rides that they have, to try to educatethe public," Kelly told collectSPACE. "I think between NASAactually performing these missions and Disney's experience with public outreachand public image and how many people they get through this park, I mean it's anincredible number of people every year, it's kind of a good relationship."
While stillat Epcot, the crew, which also included pilot Charles "Scorch"Hobaugh and mission specialists Dave Williams, Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastraccioand Al Drew, participated in a live webcast with local students and met withpark visitors. Later in the afternoon, the entire crew was honored with aprocession down Magic Kingdom's Main Street U.S.A., where guests, despite arain shower, lined the street waving American flags.
"I waspretty excited knowing that we were going to come out here," shared Caldwellwith collectSPACE. "I wish we had more time to explore the wholepark and to see the other ways in which Disney is capturing the imagination ofall of the people who visit here."
"Partneringup with Disney I think is a very smart idea," Caldwell added. "It'sone of the best ways to bring something as complicated and sometimes astechnical as space and space travel and space exploration to the Americanpublic in a way that not only excites them but it answers their questions andpresents it in a way that everyone can appreciate. They don't have to be geekslike the rest of us to really get into it. They can experience the fun parts ofit."
"Disneyis just so good at capturing imagination," said Caldwell, "we needthat if we are going to get everybody's participation in something as difficultas space travel."
Theactivities at the Walt Disney World Resort marked the first publicappearance by the crew of STS-118 since landing on August 21 followinga 13 day mission tothe international space station. While on orbit, Endeavour's crew installed anew truss segment, delivered supplies, and, given Morgan's presence,participated in three live educational downlinks with students in classroomsand at science centers.
Click here to viewmore photographs from NASA Space Day at Walt Disney World with the STS-118crew.
- SPACE.com Video Interplayer: NASA's STS-118 Shuttle Mission
- IMAGES: STS-118 Launch Day in Pictures
- SPACE.com Quiz: Test Your Space Shuttle Smarts
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