Students at Horace Mann Laboratory School rubbed shoulders Thursday with a living legend from the nation's storied history in space exploration.
Former NASA astronaut Fred Haise, a crew member on the Apollo 13 lunar mission that narrowly averted disaster, followed up his Distinguished Lecture appearance at Northwest Missouri State University this week with a visit to the campus-based elementary school.
Haise took time to tour the first floor of Brown Education Hall, where the school is housed, visiting each classroom.
During a series of brief stops, Haise answered questions from the students, who had spent the last few weeks learning his story. Several had the opportunity to watch the movie "Apollo 13," in which actor Bill Paxton played Haise alongside co-stars Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon.
Questions ranged from whether Haise and his fellow crew members heard the oxygen tank explosion that nearly doomed their spacecraft to what the plan was for survival.
Haise answered, with some humor, that in all practice explosion scenarios, "no one was coming home." He gave credit to the crew and NASA technicians on the ground for bringing Apollo 13 safely back to Earth.
A native of Biloxi, Miss., Haise told third-graders that he wanted to be a cowboy until he realized how much work it would be.
Stressing the importance of reading and education, Haise, Horace Mann principal Jill Baker and third-grade teacher Heidi Beatty spoke briefly to the students about how knowledge should guide career decisions.
"Mr. Haise is a great example of what we talk about all the time — never give up," Baker told the youngsters. "Even when something is really hard, and we think we can't do it, we can never give up."
Haise added to Baker's message of determination.
"We are all blessed with a talent," Haise said. "And they're all different. One of the secrets of life is to learn how to use that talent that you've been given."
Haise also made a plea for an increased emphasis on science education.
"I think it's (science education) important all the way through school," Haise said. "Science and engineering are behind everything we have today. You don't have a washing machine or refrigerator in your house without them."
As for today's space program, Haise said the recent unmanned rover mission to Mars has been an inspiration.
He said that all manned space programs have been preceded by similar missions, and he's excited about the future.
"I think this is terrific," Haise said. "There has always been pathfinding. It is an obvious process to see if we think a planet or moon is even worth going to."
Haise said he is intrigued by what the new generation of Mars rovers may find, and related the potential for new discoveries back to education.
Page 2 of 2 - "Everything is much more sophisticated now," Haise said. "All of the new things that we are doing are directly because of science."