Travelling at five miles a second on the space shuttle Discovery in 2011, astronaut Alvin Drew couldn’t pinpoint his exact location over earth when he did his pilot reading for Story Time for Space.
“I think it was same day we left the space station, I’m sure we’d done a complete lap (of the earth) but at that speed there’s no one place on earth you’re going to be but it very well may have been Penticton,” said Drew with a laugh during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he now works as the NASA liaison to the United States Air Force. “It’s still a very memorable event, my initial plan was to sit in the cupola (observation module) of the space station where they do the readings now, but the time aboard the space station was just too hectic.
“It was only after we had closed the hatches and undocked from the space station I stole a bit of time so that I could go and transform the cockpit of Discovery into a film studio and read a few stories.”
The video of that reading can still be found on YouTube: STS-133 Max Goes to the Moon.
Max is actually a dog in children’s author and astrophysisist Jeffrey Bennett’s series of space books, now orbiting the planet on the space station as part of Story Time from Space.
Drew remembers when he was first approached about the project, of which he eventually became a co-founder.
“Patricia (Tribe) was trying hard to pitch the idea to the education office at Johnson Space centre (Houston, Tx.). There was some disconnect there so, in desperation, she asked if I would do a demo tape,” recalled Drew, who did two space walks during the mission. “Because it was late in our mission planning there was just no way to get that into a timeline as an activity, so I said yeah I would be happy to do a timeline when I could.”
In the video Max Goes to the Moon, Drew reads what he calls “a bedtime story” from a laptop — they eventually decided to use the actual books in the program — reading about the crews’ efforts to get Max into his spacesuit after landing on the moon, including making sure his tail was in the right place.
At that point Drew stops reading, smiles and interjects to the camera: “Sound like my space walk a couple of days ago, except I don’t have a tail.”
About the success of Story Time he said: “Surprised? Yes and no. I mean at one point when Patricia explained the whole idea to me, I think it was eight years ago, it seemed obvious, going into space. What a great idea.
“Then she put it out there and it just took off. I don’t know why we didn’t see this coming and it’s still surprising how much success it’s had.”
This was his second shuttle mission to the space station, the first was in 2007 on board Endeavour, only this time he became only the 200th human to walk in space.
“It was surreal, I remember going out the (shuttle) door and the first thoughts that came to mind were, ‘We’re not in Kansas any more and Through the Looking Glass,” he said.
“It surrounds you, you’re immersed in it, looking through two narrow sheets of plexiglass and the next thing out and beyond you is 13 and a half billion light years away.”
It’s that same sense of wonder and awe he hopes Story Time will inject into young minds.
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