KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla – Every year the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) hosts its “Astronaut Autograph Show” at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This year it was held on Nov. 5-6 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Debus Center. The ASF coordinated with the operators of the Cocoa Beach Air Show to ensure that the show had a very dramatic ending.

The ASF is designed to provide students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (more commonly known as STEM) with assistance in pursuing and achieving their goals. The astronauts that comprise the ASF serve not just as role models for the young professionals striving to succeed in this field – but also as generators of monetary assistance. Every year, the 28 scholarships are awarded very year by the ASF – each of them worth $10,000.

Former shuttle astronauts Eileen Collins, Robert C. Springer and Kathy Thornton back the ASF’s efforts as it helps to promote STEM education and thus ensuring that space exploration efforts to not just continue – but to thrive.

This year’s ASF, like year’s past, was filled with “star-power.” In terms of astronauts that means those that have walked on another world, in the case of the 2011 ASF Autograph Show that means Al Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Edgar Mitchell and Dave Scott (although not mentioning Jim Lovell or Fred Haise in this sentence seems wrong – for they too were at this year’s show).

Charlie Duke is the ASF’s current chairman of the board and is as warm and open as his home state of Texas. He spoke with Universe Today at length about how the ASF’s efforts provide much-needed financial support to students that are working toward having careers in STEM fields. He mentioned wanting to support them in a manner that would recur throughout Universe Today’s visit to the ASF Autograph Show – more on that later.

One of the last astronauts to be interviewed was Gene Cernan who flew on Gemini IX before he flew to the Moon on Apollo X before commanding Apollo XVII where he became the last man to walk on the Moon. It was Cernan who best summed up what the men and women of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation were trying to accomplish. The ASF seeks to give back, as Cernan put it:

“In Apollo we stood on the shoulders of titans, engineers and scientists that allowed us to go to the moon – now we want to be the shoulders that tomorrow’s titans stand on to achieve their dreams.”

This year’s autograph show was closed out by the U.S. Navy SEALs skydiving into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s rocket garden. The skies has clouded over early in the day, but – almost on cue – the clouds parted revealing beautiful blue skies that were soon filled with the blue and yellow chutes of the Navy SEALs.

Jason Rhian

Jason has degrees in journalism and public relations. He has covered over 30 launches as well as other space-related events – including flying with Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the final shuttle mission, the president's visit to KSC and from Utah during the test of the five-segment DM-2 booster.

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