A perfect mix of engineering and flight; Astronaut Mark Lee visits Immanuel Lutheran School
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – The Dream Flight USA STEM Shuttle made a stop in Marshfield on Oct. 28 to bring a special guest to students at Immanuel Lutheran School.
“They contacted me via email that they were going to be in our area and they offered it to us, which was great because our upper grades are learning about astronomy and about the physics of astronomy, so this all fit really well with what we are teaching right now,” said Immanuel Lutheran School Principal Karen Bahn. “So, it was really great that they reached out to us and our school and our PTL (Parent Teacher League) made it possible for them to come. Then, we reached out to Trinity Lutheran for them to join us too.”
Former Astronaut Mark Lee joined the STEM Shuttle crew for the Marshfield mission.
“It worked out well that they were both able to come together and piggyback off of each other,” Bahn added. “He talks about his time as an astronaut and then the shuttle does STEM – science, technology – types of activities, hands on things that the kids can work through for grades four through eight.”
Lee is a Viroqua native. He participated in four space mission flights over eight years and performed 23 space walks.
Lee said that he knew already in the second grade that he wanted to be an astronaut. “Everything I did in my life was to get picked – all of the places I went to school, all of the degrees – everything I did was to get selected,” he recalled.
Lee was selected as an astronaut candidate in May 1984.
“In 1984, 5,000 people applied, and they picked 17,” he said. “You just have to be the right person at the right time. You can tell if someone wants to be an astronaut; they have the passion for it. When you interview people, you can tell if they want to do the job or if they are just there ‘maybe I’ll try this.’
“I was there five years before I flew, because we had the Challenger accident.”
Lee said that though his life’s ambitions were centered on space flight, he would have had a successful career either way.
“It worked out for me,” he stated. “If it wouldn’t have worked out, I still was in the Air Force. I was flying jets, and I had civil and mechanical engineering degrees, so I would have had a good life. I just had a little more fun than I would have as an engineer.”
Lee said that becoming an astronaut was the “perfect mix of engineering and flight.” He retired from NASA in 2001.
“If you don’t retire before you are 50, you have a tough time transitioning to some other work. Some people stay there and become civil servants,” he explained. “When I retired from the military, I went to Madison and worked for a company called Orbital Technologies. They were building experiments that went up to (the) space station. They have since become part of Sierra Nevada Corporation, which is someone who is doing a small shuttle-like vehicle that is going to go up to (the) space station.”
Now, Lee does about 20-25 speeches a year in a variety of venues.
“I do speeches all over the country,” he said. “I do stuff down at the Kennedy Space Center and in Wisconsin, I am spending a little bit more time up here. So, sometimes I team up with the Dream Flight and give a speech with part of their program.
“I like to talk to schools because that is where kids form their ideas of what they are going to do, what they think is exciting, and what they want to do in life.
“Typically, I talk in bigger cities than this.”
Immanuel Lutheran was the only school on Lee’s schedule for this tour with Dream Flight.