Spring Branch ISD Featured News

Former Astronaut Visits Bendwood School


Former NASA Space Shuttle program astronaut Brewster Shaw recently described what it was like to fly and work in space during a recent visit to the Bendwood School.

On Dec. 17, just days before the holiday break, two classrooms of SPIRAL students learned from a top NASA Shuttle pilot and commander. The SPIRAL program’s initials represent Spring Branch Improving Reasoning and Accelerating Learning.

The special visit was organized in collaboration with Bendwood’s Gifted & Talented STEM teacher, Molly Nipper, and the parent of a student who personally knew the former astronaut.

Nipper, a passionate space science learner, instructor, presenter, and advocate, has invited and hosted a number of NASA engineers at Bendwood in recent years. Last month, the students had the opportunity to hear from a real astronaut.  

Astronaut Shaw is a veteran of three separate Space Shuttle missions and has logged more than 530 hours of space flight over several years. His first mission was as a pilot for the Space Shuttle Columbia, back in 1983, and he was commander for two other Shuttle missions – Atlantis in 1985, and then on Columbia again in 1989.

Now a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, Shaw also served as a high-ranking NASA manager and he was a Boeing executive. In 2006, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, a rare and important lifetime achievement.

On Dec. 17, however, Shaw met with students and teachers in a simple Gifted & Talented classroom setting.

At Bendwood, he talked about his own space experiences, ranging from food selections and tasting in space (steak was his favorite food), to an astronaut’s view on how the moon impacts earth through its gravitational pull. “To hear about these topics from a real astronaut was really fun,” said Nipper. 

Students asked great questions, and they also gave Shaw the mission patch that they had designed in Nipper’s class. In return, Shaw gave each student from Nipper and teacher Ashley Kopczynski’s classes mission patches from his three space trips.

Parents were also invited to attend and hear the astronaut’s remarks, and several did so.

“This was a huge event for our students as it is rare to have a former astronaut visit a classroom like the one here at Bendwood School,” Nipper said. “It was truly an exciting last day before the winter break for these two SPIRAL classes.”

Among other points of interest, Shaw’s online career biography includes a life-changing meeting with a college bandmate who held a private pilot’s license and took Shaw flying with him one day. “From that moment on, I wanted to be a pilot,” Wikipedia reports Shaw saying.  

Nipper’s interest in space science runs deep and passionate, and it may have helped attract the former NASA astronaut to visit SBISD students.

“I am passionate about space science,” she said. “I really enjoy teaching it and engaging my students in authentic and real-world experience. For me, that means making connections with NASA, and with that organization’s tremendous workforce and heroic veterans like Shaw.”

Nipper has attended Johnson Space Center’s Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) for the past decade. This February, the conference will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Nipper has presented there for the past three years at SEEC; she is scheduled to do so again this year.

Included in the 25th-anniversary conference messaging is a special tribute to another teacher, the Space Shuttle Challenger’s teacher representative, Christa McAuliffe, who died with other crew members in the tragic lift-off disaster. “I touch the future. I teach,” McAuliffe said.

Learn more about SEEC goals and hear SBISD’s Nipper speak in this pre-conference video: