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Archive for Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hutchinson woman fulfills NASA dream

July 17, 2010

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— Over the years there have been plenty of last days at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center for Teresa Sindelar.

Twenty summers ago as a camper in the Future Astronaut Training Program, Sindelar said “so long” after a fun adventure.

Then, over the years, as a counselor and even camp director there were plenty of farewells.

Wednesday it was good-bye again.

This time Sindelar was headed off to pursue her lifelong dream working for NASA.

She’ll begin work at Houston’s Johnson Space Center as a NASA Education Specialist in the Teaching from Space office on Aug. 9. In this new position she’ll work closely with astronauts, taking what they do in orbit and turning it into classroom curriculum.

In this new job there will be no typical day. One day she’ll be talking to astronauts, the next talking to Congress about the importance of space program on students of tomorrow. The next day she’ll be telling students how cool it is to fly.

In retrospect, it seems all roads have led Sindelar to this moment, despite the fact that she had applied and been turned down for various positions at NASA at least five times over the years. Wednesday that was a lesson she was teaching on her last day at camp, telling campers she’s living proof that dreams come true.

“Everything I’ve ever done has led to securing this job,” Sindelar said. “But, it hasn’t been a walk in the park.”

Perhaps it was in the stars for the young girl, who begged her mother to send her to space camp, to just wander into an Omaha store. That’s where she met Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford who was signing autographs. And her mother learned from Stafford of the great summer camp in Kansas, just a state away.

Then, if it hadn’t been for Helen Unruh, a former camp director, reassuring Teresa’s mother that she’d be just fine at the camp, there might not have ever been the camp experience.

“Helen has been a mentor, as has everyone here,” Sindelar said. They are encouraging, always telling her she’d get to NASA, she just had to find the way.

While her desire to work for NASA was strong, she struggled in math and foreign languages, skills NASA looks for in their employees. But she loved science, and also came to realize her gift was teaching.

Camp director Todd Ray remembered the first time he laid eyes on the 11-year-old camper. Sindelar was wearing a wide brimmed straw hat like she was headed to a garden party, rather than the Future Astronaut Training Program.

But, the fact that she returned over and over didn’t surprise Ray; he always knew it was a goal of hers to work at NASA.

“She’s scared. But she has to do it,” Ray said, of this new experience. “This has been a dream she wanted and now the opportunity has presented itself and she has to jump.”

Sindelar has been a science teacher for the past five years in the Buhler school system while working on her master’s degree, but returned every summer to help with camps. She believes getting the advanced degree helped her land this position.

While thrilled with the opportunity, she is concerned about uprooting the life of her family. Sindelar’s husband, Dan, a mechanical engineer, will look for work in Houston. Plus, the couple have two children, Mason, 3, and Layla, 1.

Before they were married in October 2002 she told Dan of her dream to work for NASA in Houston.

“He said he’d follow me to the moon,” Sindelar said. Now they are taking that leap.

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