Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hometown Heroes 2009: Tradition Continues for Ohio Aviation Heroes

Saturday, September 5, 2009
Orville and Wilbur Wright along with astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong each have two things in common – they hold a very distinctive place in aviation history and all of them are from Ohio. Joining them in this unique club is another Ohio native, retired U.S. Air Force colonel Gregory H. Johnson. Johnson is a NASA astronaut from Fairborn, Ohio and served as the pilot of the STS-123 shuttle mission to the International Space Station in March 2008.

In August, Johnson returned to his home state as part of NASA’s Hometown Heroes campaign. Throughout the summer astronauts have been traveling back to their home regions on a mission to increase awareness and excitement for two major space exploration milestones – the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and the 10th anniversary of the International Space Station’s first component being placed in orbit.

During his two-day visit to Cincinnati, Johnson made several public appearances. The morning of Aug. 3 he talked to the local media about his journey to NASA and his thoughts about the future of the space program.

Later that evening during a dinner at the historic Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Johnson gave those attending a glimpse of what it’s like to pilot a shuttle mission and shared the excitement of helping to build the space station.

"Those attending were treated to an entertaining and informative presentation by Colonel Johnson, who shared gorgeous photographs and inspiring video clips that documented the mission he piloted,” said Eileen Yeoh, manager of annual giving for the Cincinnati Museum Center. “Everyone was thrilled with the opportunity to meet and ask questions of Johnson, who was charming and gracious with his responses. We are grateful to NASA for sharing one of their heroes with us."

For more than four decades, Union Terminal served as a major railroad hub for the Buckeye state and now it serves as a museum where visitors can learn about science, nature and the rich history of Cincinnati. It was the perfect setting for Johnson’s next presentation on Aug. 4 to more than 250 NASA Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) students from Hughes High School in Cincinnati.

“The museum was a great place to have Colonel Johnson come in and speak,” said Chad Mertz, director of public relations for the Cincinnati Museum Center. “Hughes High is a brand new school, and these kids are the first class going through this STEM process. For them to see someone that’s in the science, technology, engineering and math field and that has been so successful in their career, I think is a great inspiration.”

The students listened as Johnson recreated his journey to the space station during a half-hour presentation followed by a question and answer session. They were star-struck when they got a chance to get his autograph.

That evening, with his favorite baseball glove in-hand, Johnson headed to Great American Ball Park where the Cincinnati Reds were hosting the Chicago Cubs. He threw out the first pitch of the game with his brother Gary serving as the catcher. During an interview before the game, Johnson jokingly shared with WLW radio host Jim Scott that his goal was to at least get the ball over home plate.

Johnson also presented Cincinnati Reds Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini with a photo of Cincinnati taken from the space station. Ballpark officials say it was an honor to have the astronaut come to the game.

“Working in baseball puts me in direct contact with star athletes on a daily basis,” said Kathryn Braun, events coordinator for the Cincinnati Reds. “However, it’s refreshing from time to time to meet someone remarkable from another field, which is why having Greg at the ballpark for the first pitch was a big thrill.”

The thrill of flying in low Earth orbit continues for Johnson. Shortly after returning to Johnson Space Center from his Hometown Heroes trip, he made aviation history again. He was selected for a return visit to the space station as the pilot of STS-134, one of the last few shuttle missions in history


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