While the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is known to many space buffs for its annual Astronaut Autograph and Memorabilia Show and its galas featuring a bevy of U.S. spaceflight legends, its mission fulfills a vital need in the local Space Coast and national education communities. This year’s show, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and associated events (taking place from Thursday, Nov. 6, to Sunday, Nov. 9) promise many opportunities for enthusiastic fans to meet with a diverse group of space pioneers, but will also aid students working hard to make their own mark in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. An interview with ASF’s Communications Director Rika Rowland underscores what ASF does not just for the space community, but also for the future of STEM.
This year, ASF celebrated the 30th anniversary of its founding by the Mercury 7 astronauts, who saw a vital need to educate future generations about science-related fields. Since 1984, the foundation and its donors have made significant contributions: “Since ASF was founded 30 years ago, we have awarded over $4 million in scholarships. Part of ASF’s strategic plan is to continue to grow the Astronaut Scholarship program to offer even more scholarships to exceptional STEM students at even more participating schools. ASF has seen tremendous growth over the years,” Rowland stated.
She added, “More and more industry leaders are joining ASF’s mission to help to ensure that the United States continues to have the highly-qualified STEM workforce needed to meet the high-tech demands of the future.”
While the program has graduated innumerable scholars who have impacted many scientific fields, one will view the stars in coming years (or perhaps even Mars). Last year, ASF celebrated the naming of Christina Hammock as a member of NASA’s latest astronaut class. Hammock is a past ASF scholar and, before being named as an astronaut candidate, was a station chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in American Samoa, among many other ventures. Her selection from a pool of thousands shows that with education, anything (and going anywhere) is possible for students.
While ASF benefits many students, participating universities, and schools throughout the country, it also gives back to the Space Coast, where it is headquartered. “ASF hosts a variety of events including scholar technical conferences, astronaut speaking engagements through local schools and organizations, and educational seminars at participating universities. In addition, our board and staff members participant in educational and space-related events hosted by other venues and civic groups throughout the area,” she related. Of course, many ASF board members are former astronauts from several different eras of NASA spaceflight.
ASF’s cornerstone event and fundraiser is its yearly autograph and memorabilia show, which will feature not only astronauts, but also other key figures in U.S. spaceflight history. This year’s show and other surrounding events (including a “Pioneers of Space” gala taking place on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 8) will provide space fans with an opportunity to give back while meeting their heroes. Rowland discussed the many events that will take place this year.
“In addition to the Astronaut Autograph and Memorabilia Show on November 8th and 9th at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where guests can meet and purchase personal autographs by more than 30 space legends and attend a series of astronaut lectures throughout the day, we have a variety of events taking place,” she enthused.
“Our host hotel site is the Cocoa Beach Hilton, which is an incredibly beautiful facility that will serve as the backdrop for Thursday night’s Monte Carlo Casino Night, where guests can try their luck against celebrity astronauts. Friday evening’s Night Under the Stars event is at the Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral. This seven-floor venue offers incredible vistas and multi-levels of activities, including a special presentation by astronaut General Tom Stafford, tapas-style dinner and cocktails, and more astronaut encounters. Saturday evening’s Pioneers of Space dinner celebration includes a celebrity astronaut panel discussion, OMEGA watch raffle and so much more.”
Sadly, the U.S. space community has lost many astronauts and significant figures within the last year, including Henry “Hank” Hartsfield, William Pogue, Steven Nagel, and others. Rowland made it clear that their contributions to spaceflight history will not go unnoticed. She said: “The space community is a tremendously tight-knit group. A loss of any of its members deeply impacts the group, as well as our nation as a whole. During Saturday’s Pioneers of Space program, we will recognize those astronauts who have passed away during this year, and honor their memory and contributions.”
ASF’s events this November will cast an eye on spaceflight’s past, while looking resolutely ahead at the nation’s STEM future. For more information about the schedule of events for this year’s Autograph and Memorabilia Show and event pricing options, please visit the event’s page on ASF’s website. An updated list of this year’s astronaut and space legend participants is also available through visiting the site. If you can’t swing by the Space Coast that weekend, don’t fret—ASF also holds an auction of astronaut memorabilia opening Oct. 30, which has an online registration option.