North Augusta High School students had the chance to learn quite a bit about space from an expert on Friday morning.
Russell Romanella, the director for safety and mission assurance at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spoke to more than 40 students at the school’s auditorium. He also stayed for a lengthy question-and-answer session with students.
The event was put on by the Astronomy Club of Augusta, a group that serves the CSRA, and was aimed toward students with an interest in astronomy.
“What got me started with this is that, 15 years ago, I was the deputy director of Space Station Processing at the Kennedy Space Center,” Romanella said. “They needed someone to talk about what was going on. My boss didn’t like going out and doing the outreach events, so he asked me to do it. Then I went to a local elementary school, and I talked there and had a good time. I may have inspired the kids, but it inspired me and got me excited about what I was doing. It reminded me that what I was doing was amazing and cool.”
Romanella said he has visited more than 200 schools and talked to more than 100,000 kids. He also said his brother lives in Augusta, and the club reached out to him to be a speaker.
“It’s important for NASA to let people know what we’re doing and inspiring the next generation,” he said. “It’s one of the most important things that NASA does.”
During the presentation, Romanella told students he got kicked out of high school when he was in his senior year. He begged to get back in, going to night and summer school to graduate on time. He took two years off after graduation and worked at a restaurant, working 60 to 70 hours a week and making $200 a week.
“I became the manager of the restaurant, and I was cruising along,” he said. “I was sitting on the porch with a neighbor of mine, and I told him I didn’t know what I was going to do – what I had been doing wasn’t working. He then asked me what I liked. I didn’t understand what he was talking about, but I said I had always been interested in animals and astronomy.”
Romanella said his friend told him simply to “pick one and start down that path.”
“I never envisioned that I was going to work for NASA,” he said. “I was going to a local community college, and I took chemistry. I had to drop it because I was failing. The second time I failed. The third time I got an A – and that’s when I figured it out. I could do anything. There’s nothing to be afraid of, and these things I thought were so hard really weren’t that hard. You just have to spend some time studying, getting someone to help you. Never believe you can’t learn.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since January 2013 after previously working at the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.