Betty Takes Washington DC: Day 6

The White House and beyond

Day 6: Thursday


Dr. Michelle Taller: astrophysicist and the smartest person I’ve ever met

Charles F. Bolden, Jr.: NASA administrator

Koichi Wakate and Richard Mastraccio: current astronauts on the ISS

Congressman Cory Gardner: representative from Colorado, USSYP alumni

President Barack Obama

NASA blew me away. I didn’t know what to expect when we went to their headquarters. However, it started out with a short presentation of Dr. Michelle Taller, who appears on many television shows on Discover, National Geographic etc. She was BRILLIANT! Taller was by the most fascinating speaker we heard from this trip. The immense wealth of knowledge she could tap into for any question was incredible. Her vibrancy and personality drew us all in, shredding any preconceived notion of how a Harvard educated astrophysicist would act. I do not consider myself much of a feminist, but she made me want to be one.

After Taller’s speech, our group’s presentation was broadcast live for NASA’s website. It started from the fascinating Charlie Bolden. He explained how he never knew what he wanted to do, except go to the Naval academy as a young boy. After a rough plebe year at the Academy, Bolden stuck through it and kept chugging along. By finding new opportunities he eventually became a marine test pilot, then an astronaut, and is now in charge of NASA. I quite enjoyed his presentation, much more than I had expected to.

After Bolden we got to do a live Q&A with two astronauts on the International Space Station. Let me repeat, I got to ask a question to people IN OUTERSPACE!!! It didn’t quite hit me at the time I was asking my question but what an amazing feat. That I, a lowly eighteen-year-old Kansan, can communicate to astronauts orbiting our Earth.

While we were still at NASA, Rep. Cory Gardner came to speak. The Senate hopeful from Colorado was extremely charismatic. He explained how USSYP helped guide him into a life of public service, despite him being a small-town farm boy from the extreme northeast corner of Colorado. In a humorous comment answering a question regarding the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Gardner said, “We always wanted states to be the laboratory of democracy, and Colorado is deep in that laboratory.” This was coupled in a warning for other states, as he believes they should wait and see the effects of Colorado’s decision, which he doesn’t agree with, before implementing their own laws.

In the afternoon we had the “cherry-on-top” of our visit, meeting President Obama. After a self-guided tour of the public rooms of the White House, we got situated on a set of bleachers to greet the president. He came in, gave a quick speech, and then answered two questions. It was an amazing feeling to be congratulated by the President for our accomplishments. His best advice for us was to “Not be cynical,” regarding the current government gridlock and that we with hard effort, you will eventually find success.

In an effort to culture us, we also went to the National Portrait Gallery and attended the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. Both were an amazing experience. While I am not particularly fond of the arts, it was neat to be surrounded by so many people who truly love them as a hobby. The portrait gallery was particularly neat, as I toured the Presidential Portrait Gallery. My favorite presidential portraits were those of Andrew Jackson and both of the Bush presidents.