LITTLE ARMENIA — On March 10, 2016 Douglas H. Wheelock, Colonel, USA, RET, NASA Astronaut visited Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School. This assembly was initiated and arranged by one of our very own 9th graders, Aren Melkonian. Aren’s curiosity and drive led him to discover a program offered through Congressman Schiff’s office where once a year, the Congressman visits a local school and brings with him a NASA Astronaut. Aren emailed the Congressman’s office and patiently anticipated for the timing of his visit to become convenient as Colonel Wheelock was in Russia aiding the safe return of the crew of a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station. Finally, Pilibos was able to secure a visit to Pilibos by the Congressman and Astronaut Wheelock.
Most may know Colonel Wheelock as the astronaut who has flown in space twice, logging 178 days on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Russian Soyuz. However, to the 3rd-8th grade students of Pilibos, he is known as the down to earth, funny, and super cool astronaut who told them to never ever give up on their dreams. Students had the privilege to hear about Astronaut Wheelock’s experiences in space as an Astronaut, but they also had the chance to see astronomy come to life as he pulled students from the crowd and encouraged them to participate in demonstrations that helped somewhat demystify the mystery of the cosmos.
He of course spoke of his experiences as an astronaut, but more than that, he reminisced about being a young student, just like the crowd he was speaking to and dreaming of one day being an astronaut. As a child that was merely a dream, a wish to one day grow up and become what he wished. Extraordinarily enough that is exactly what happened. Wheelock spoke of a time that he was a young student in Windsor, New York. After high school he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Science and Engineering from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1983; He then received his Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Georgia, 1992. With a variety of awards and honors, too many to mention, Astronaut Wheelock definitely lived out his dream and surpassed it.
What was most impressive was to hear Colonel Wheelock speak of experiences that not very many people on earth can have. Seeing a light at the corner of his eye, which turned out to be a shooting star, or living in solitude for months on end, or even being so vastly detached from most people’s reality that we take for granted every day. Colonel Wheelock said, “I missed the sounds of a bird’s song and the gentle rain; and the sweet fragrance of flowers and trees.”
This was such a valuable experience for all of our students! Pilibos is very grateful to Congressman Schiff and Astronaut Wheelock for their visit and to Aren Melkonian for making this all happen!