Norwood assistant principal witnesses space shuttle launch

Dave Haney

As the first teacher-astronaut went hurtling into space Wednesday, a first since the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, a Norwood teacher watched on in awe.

Becky Jaramillo was among a couple of hundred other educators with a VIP invite-only pass to Banana Creek — at 2½ miles away, it’s the closest location to the launch site for viewing — to watch Endeavor lift off toward the International Space Station.

"It was absolutely amazing," she said. "I was not at all prepared for how bright it was. It’s just this incredibly bright neon orange."

The Wednesday launch was pivotal as aboard Endeavor was Barbara Morgan, a teacher-turned-astronaut and who was the backup for Christa McAuliffe, who perished along with six astronauts on the ill-fated Challenger flight more than 20 years ago.

"This was absolutely a dream come true for me," Jaramillo said. "I cannot begin to describe the energy here."

Jaramillo, a former special education teacher turned assistant principal at Norwood, has garnered national recognition for her work as an educator, receiving the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, an honor bestowed upon only 95 teachers nationwide at the time.

But what helped her land the cool seat on Wednesday was her work with National Aeronautics and Space Administration promoting education and interest in space exploration over the past six years.

She helped develop educational content to go with 16 of 36 episodes of the public television series "NASA Sci-Files," script-writing for another television series called "NASA Connect," and worked on NASA’s Jamestown Modules, which compared exploration of the past with future space exploration, not to mention she also helped design an ongoing experiment still aboard the space station.

Jaramillo said the work to promote interest in space is more vital now than ever.

Citing statistics she picked up during a conference this week in Florida, 18- to 30-year-olds have little to no interest in NASA. Many in this age category associate NASA with tragedies, such as with the Challenger explosion in 1986 and when Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003, she said.

Jaramillo said she can’t wait to show her students the footage she videotaped from the launch.

"I was looking at my video already," she said about 20 minutes after the launch. "I got very good video of it."

Dave Haney can be reached at (309) 686-3181 or dhaney@pjstar.com. Jacqueline Koch contributed to this story.