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Teacher attends prestigious NASA institute in Texas

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Fort Plain Jr./Sr. High School science teacher Patrick Petty’s summer was out-of-this-world. He attended a prestigious professional development program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He was one of just 50 educators from across the nation who was selected for the opportunity.

Petty attended the LiftOff Summer Institute in late June. The theme of the institute was Legacy of Apollo, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. moon landing.

“I cannot speak highly enough of this outstanding opportunity,” Petty said. “In addition to meeting world-class educators from around the country, we had the opportunity to meet Apollo XIII astronauts, crew members and engineers, and countless other NASA employees.”

Petty said highlights of the experience included presentations by Fred Haise, who is one of the surviving Apollo XIII astronauts, and seven-time space walker Jerry Ross, who is NASA’s record-setting frequent flyer.

Petty also heard from several scientists and engineers, including retired NASA engineer Norm Chaffee. He was a propulsion specialist who worked with NASA for more than 50 years on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space shuttle projects.

“He was part of the team that designed the propulsion system for the Saturn V and gave us an in-depth tour of the rocket,” Petty said. “Listening to him was like listening to the people who made Columbus’ ships.”

Petty also increased his knowledge of working and living in space by touring various laboratories, and he toured the mock-up facility where astronauts do a majority of their training.

One of the exercises that Petty participated in stationed him in mission control of a simulated space mission.

“Our group was monitoring the status of the ‘spaceship’ and crew from the ground, while the other half of our team was in ‘space’ carrying out a mission,” he said.

The opportunity was sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium, which selects teachers from across the U.S. who will increase their knowledge of space education through the professional development program.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m excited to incorporate it into my classroom instruction,” Petty said.

Fort Plain students have already benefited from Petty’s experience. He hosted a week-long space-themed day camp in July for elementary students, with his high school students serving as counselors.