5 Cool Connections Between Tampa Bay and Outer Space
As a news reporter covering America’s space program for many years, I got to live out the dreams I had as a kid, growing up down the street from the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s East Coast—interviewing astronauts, covering teeth-rattling rocket launches and even climbing inside a real spaceship (while it was still securely on the ground, of course).
Even though my own two sons will be growing up here on the West Coast of Florida, I have ways to get them interested in space, too. That’s because there are a surprising number of cool connections any of us can share with our kids that link Tampa Bay to Outer Space.
Here are five space conversation-starters:
Clearwater High School has not one, but two, astronaut graduates.
Both Bruce Melnick and Nicole Stott flew on the Space Shuttle after growing up in Tampa Bay and attending Clearwater High. Both are amazing astronauts, but also dedicated parents; when Nicole Stott was living on the International Space Station for three months, she took a break to call home to Earth almost every night to help tuck her young son into bed.
Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg has also graduated an astronaut!
Charles Duke, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 16, graduated from the St. Petersburg campus in 1953. Farragut’s ties to space are more recent as well, since NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott is the parent of a student in the 11th grade. “You’re learning to work as a team here at Farragut, and that’s exactly what we had at NASA,” said Duke. “Keep in mind when I graduated from Farragut people did not know what an astronaut was, it was not something you prepared for, but Farragut prepared me for life. I am so thankful to my parents for making the sacrifice for me to go to Farragut. It prepared me for the Naval Academy and for life after it.”
More fun facts: Nicole Stott has a child at the school and Alan Shepard, the first American in space graduated from the Pine Beach, NJ campus in 1941.
Many of the controls and computers astronauts used on the Space Shuttle were built in Tampa Bay.
People working for a company in Clearwater called Honeywell created many shuttle parts. Two of their most important ones: the computers that told the shuttle’s main engines when to start and stop, and the hand controls astronauts used to move the shuttle’s long robot arm.
The voice of Kennedy Space Center is a USF graduate who grew up in Sarasota and Clearwater.
His name is George Diller, and he’s famous for his “liftoff lines” when the Space Shuttles blasted off. You can search YouTube for great videos of his exciting “And we have liftoff…” messages during launches.
Some of the most helpful tools in Tampa Bay today were invented for the Apollo moon landing program 50 years ago.
Some examples: cordless power tools (originally used for astronaut tools on the moon), digital cameras (designed to replace film cameras when sending pictures from space to Earth) and MRI machines that save lives with medical scans (originally used to scan spaceship parts to look for damage).
Spaceship Earth, the huge sphere in the middle of Epcot at Walt Disney World, was built in Tampa.
OK, this isn’t a real spaceship, but it’s really cool. The metal skeleton inside Epcot’s famous “golf ball” was all measured, cut and put together by the workers at Tampa Steel Erecting Company near Riverview. The steel parts were taken piece-by-piece on trucks down I-4 to the theme park, where the company’s owner says they were put together like “a tinker toy set.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every day, Grayson Kamm spreads the word about the amazing students, teachers and staff of Hillsborough County Public Schools. As the communications and media officer, Grayson oversees communications for 235 schools in America’s eight-largest school district. Grayson previously served on the executive team at MOSI following a 13-year career as a TV journalist-reporting on space, science and politics. He and his wife Cathy have two sons in elementary school, Collier and Merritt.