Students told to Reach for the Stars

Students get up-close look at STEM careers

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Retired astronaut Wendy Lawrence (seated), veteran of four Space Shuttle flights, talks to a Moses Lake High School student on Tuesday at the end of Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Reach for the Stars with STEM event.

MOSES LAKE — “Why do we have to study math?”

It was a question likely on the minds of many of the ninth-graders yesterday who were gathered in the terminal of the Grant County International Airport Tuesday morning as rain crept east over the airfield.

It was even asked out loud by one student.

“Math and science teach you how to think, how to solve problems, and a lot of life is about solving problems,” retired astronaut Wendy Lawrence responded.

Lawrence was one of several special guests who spoke to Moses Lake High School ninth-graders about what they do and why they love math, engineering, and science at “Reach for the Stars with STEM” sponsored by Mitsubishi Aircraft and hosted by the Port of Moses Lake and Big Bend Community College.

The goal was to expose the district's ninth-graders to all the possible things they can do — careers they could have — with math, science, engineering, and technology.

“A lot is available to you today, showing you what is possible and expanding your horizons,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence described being 10 years old and watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on her grainy, black-and-white television at home, and thinking to herself, “That's what I want to do.”

So Lawrence focused her life on achieving that dream. She studied at the Naval Academy, became a Navy pilot, got an advanced degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and focused intensely on astronaut training when she was accepted.

But Lawrence also understands that not everyone can fly. Helicopters, airplanes, and spaceships don't just need pilots — they need engineers to design them, technicians to build them, and mechanics to repair them and keep them flying, she explained.

“It takes a village to make an aircraft fly,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence — a veteran of four Space Shuttle flights — described the orbiter as “alive” on launch day.

“And I can't believe someone is paying me to do this,” she added. “I know the power of a dream and what it can do.”

It was a sentiment shared by Steve Long, a former U.S. Air Force fighter-bomber pilot who now flies as a test pilot for Mitsubishi.

“Flight testing is about the most fun you can have with an airplane,” Long said. “You take an airplane, even a big one, and do some really stupid things with them.”

Like stalling them out, or making an engine fail either in flight or while taking off, all to see where an aircraft's failure points are — to make sure other pilots don't go near them, Long said.

“It's really cool flying airplanes and getting paid,” he added.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at

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