More than fifty years ago, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun worked with Walt Disney on a series of animated TV specials with the goal of exciting the American public about space exploration.
Half a century later, NASA is still partnering with Disney, and on Monday, it was the crew of shuttle Endeavour that took the spotlight at the Epcot and Magic Kingdom theme parks in Florida.
"It's so appropriate that we are here at Epcot where our founder Walt Disney's dreams come true," said the park's vice president, Jim MacPhee. "We're standing before Mission: SPACE. What better place to think about [their] accomplishments than right here."
The ceremonies honoring the seven astronauts began at Epcot's space flight-themed attraction,Mission: SPACE, where teacher-turned-mission specialist Barbara Morgan was singled out for her achievements.
"We're also standing in front of the Wall of Honor, where we have paid tribute to astronauts who have traveled before us and today's a very special day, because we are honoring our newest dreamer, astronaut Barbara Morgan," said MacPhee, who was joined by Joyce Winterton, NASA's assistant administrator for education. Together they welcomed Morgan, who, with the accompaniment of a Disney-style countdown complete with billowing smoke and silver confetti, revealed her inspirational message on an etched-glass plaque.
"I do have some words to share, and they say, 'Reach for your dreams, the sky is no limit,'" said Morgan.
The plaque, which hangs along a wall with similar quotes from Neil Armstrong, Carl Sagan, John F. Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh, was positioned next to one honoring teacher in space Christa McAuliffe, for whom Morgan was back-up on the ill-fated 1986 Challenger mission.
Morgan spoke to collectSPACE.com about the plaque.
"I think it's great and it's quite honoring, and more than anything, I just thank Disney for honoring exploration and education. This is not a me thing, this honors all teachers and students and space explorers and my crewmates," Morgan explained. "And, it really is pretty neat."
Morgan went on to say that she thought the partnership between NASA and Disney was "wonderful."
"First of all, you know they inspire kids to dream and to imagine and it takes dreaming and imagination to make all this stuff happen," she said.
They are also keen on education, and do a lot for and with education, and you can't do space exploration without good education. They go hand in hand. You have to have educated folks and dreamers, imaginers who can put all of this together."
Morgan's STS-118 commander, Scott Kelly, agreed.
"Disney is known as a company that can package science and education very well [and] make it exciting, especially with the rides that they have, to try to educate the public," Kelly told collectSPACE. "I think between NASA actually performing these missions and Disney's experience with public outreach and public image and how many people they get through this park, I mean it's an incredible number of people every year, it's kind of a good relationship."
While still at Epcot, the crew, which also included pilot Charles "Scorch" Hobaugh and mission specialists Dave Williams, Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastraccio and Al Drew, participated in a live webcast with local students and met with park visitors. Later in the afternoon, the entire crew was honored with a procession down Magic Kingdom's Main Street U.S.A., where guests, despite a rain shower, lined the street waving American flags.
"I was pretty excited knowing that we were going to come out here," shared Caldwell with collectSPACE. "I wish we had more time to explore the whole park and to see the other ways in which Disney is capturing the imagination of all of the people who visit here."
"Partnering up with Disney I think is a very smart idea," Caldwell added. "It's one of the best ways to bring something as complicated and sometimes as technical as space and space travel and space exploration to the American public in a way that not only excites them but it answers their questions and presents it in a way that everyone can appreciate. They don't have to be geeks like the rest of us to really get into it. They can experience the fun parts of it."
"Disney is just so good at capturing imagination," said Caldwell, "we need that if we are going to get everybody's participation in something as difficult as space travel."
The activities at the Walt Disney World Resort marked the first public appearance by the crew of STS-118 since landing on August 21 following a 13 day mission to the international space station. While on orbit, Endeavour's crew installed a new truss segment, delivered supplies, and, given Morgan's presence, participated in three live educational downlinks with students in classrooms and at science centers.
Photos and info here: http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-091107a.html