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Arts Academy 7th and 8th graders had a fascinating lesson today from an actual shuttle astronaut! Col. Frederick Gregory, a retired Air Force officer and NASA astronaut, appeared with Mrs. Covert’s classes via SKYPE from Anapolis, Maryland.

Following a career as an Air Force Test Pilot, the Vietnam veteran was accepted into the NASA space program in 1978.

In April 1985, Gregory's first mission to space on the space shuttle Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center. In 1989, Gregory became the first African American space commander when he commanded the mission STS-33 on board the space shuttle Discovery. With the completion of his third space mission on the space shuttle Atlantis in 1991, Gregory was appointed Associate Administrator, Office of Safety and Mission Quality at the NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In 1993, Gregory retired as a colonel from the Air Force after logging more than 6,976 hours of flying time in over fifty types of aircraft and 550 combat missions in Vietnam. Gregory continued to work with NASA and in 2001 was promoted to NASA Deputy Administrator. After head Administrator Sean O’Keefe left NASA, Gregory served as Acting Administrator of NASA, the first African American to hold this position.

Students had the opportunity to ask Col. Gregory questions. When asked about the Challenger accident in 1986, he told them of serving as the lead capsule communicator during the launch in which all seven astronauts on board were killed.

“It was horrible for me. I was talking to the crew when it blew up,” he said, adding that the commander of the mission was his neighbor and good friend. After the shock wore off, he said his thought was, “We can’t stop the program. We have to continue.”

He shared light-hearted facts, as well. Students were surprised to hear that astronauts eat whatever they want in space. Col. Gregory liked Snickers Bars and brisket from a particular Georgia barbecue place. He also said it’s easy to sleep in space and if you sneeze without holding onto something, you will propel yourself backwards at a good clip.

He encouraged students that if they have an interest in space to take STEM classes and work hard. He said it is Interest and passion, not technology, that is keeping us from visiting other planets.