Last week we were fortunate to host Astronaut Frederick Gregory, his wife, Annette, Steve Wirth, Jill Dagnostino, Linn Leblanc, and Nicole Russ, courtesy of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The astronaut scholarship foundation was originally started as the Mercury Seven Foundation by the 6 surviving astronauts of the Mercury Seven. The idea behind the foundation’s creation was to encourage world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to bright, motivated, and creative students in the Science and Engineering fields to advance their education. The foundation started with $1,000 scholarships awarded to 7 individuals in 1986. Since then, the original 6 astronauts have been joined by astronauts from the Gemini, Skylab, Apollo, and space Shuttle Programs, and it has become the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. To this day, they have given over $3 million in scholarships to prospective students throughout the nation (http://www.astronautscholarship.org/aboutus.html).
Fred came from a heavy flight background, beginning in the Air Force with helicopters and then changing over to fixed wing flight where he later became a research test pilot at NASA’s Langley research Center. He was then selected for astronaut training shortly thereafter. He became the first African American to command a spaceship when he guided Discover into orbit in November 1989. Frederick Gregory also piloted one shuttle mission with 6 other astronauts along with a handful of rats and monkeys used to study their behavior in Zero G. Afterward, he went on to command 2 defense department flights and later went into management and served as NASA’s Deputy administrator from 2002-2005. He was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2004 (http://www.astronautscholarship.org/gregory.html ).
Steve Wirth and Jill Dagnostino were the blessed individuals who were awarded the privilege of learning how to dive with Fred and his wife, Annette. Every year, the foundation has auctions where participants can win a chance to do an activity with an astronaut. Fred, Annette, Jill, and Steve spent 2 days with Florida Keys Dive Center completing their open water certification where they pretty much had as much fun as possible while avoiding moon jellyfish swarms (which have been the worst this year in recent memory). We enjoyed their visit immensely, and are looking forward to seeing them in the future when they come back to complete their advanced open water certifications! A big huge THANKS to Linn Leblanc and Nicole Russ for coordinating this whole event and making it happen!