2010: The Year We Made Contact–With NASA!


NASA Administrator, General Charles Bolden greets TSM Founder, Ivor Dawson as Nichelle Nichols looks on at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. (NASA photo)

“You’re from NASA, right?” That’s a question that we’ve been asked ever since Traveling Space Museum began back in 1998. Back then, being mistaken for NASA was flattering but it wasn’t helping us getting our name out into the universe. Once we were even asked to hide our true identity!

When NASA failed to respond to student invitations to visit a private school, TSM was hired to fill in. Only after we arrived were we asked not to divulge the truth and say that we were from NASA if asked. The issue never came up but the many heartfelt “Thank you, NASA” letters we received later just added to the irony.

Everything changed on January 23, 2010 when Nichelle Nichols and I were invited to attend NASA Ames’ 70th Anniversary Gala. Nichelle was asked to be the special guest speaker and I would have a last best chance to plead a case for NASA’s support of TSM. We had a 30-minute audience with Center Director, Dr. Pete Worden and his Deputy, Lew Braxton. After the first minute, we realized that they were very familiar with TSM!


Sitting in on the meeting (left to right) is: NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin, Assistant Administrator for Public Outreach, Alan Ladwig and James Stofan, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Program Integration. (NASA photo)

Before we knew it, Dr. Worden was talking about bringing TSM to Bay Area schools and having Nichelle Nichols visiting Ames and other NASA research facilities before the summer!

TSM also performed a Space Day event at NASA Ames at their Exploratorium Center in July.

These days, when we get letters that say: “Thank you NASA for bringing the Traveling Space Museum to my school”—it’s especially sweet! We took twenty-five of these ‘thank you letters’ to NASA Administrator, General Charles Bolden at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC on September 10, 2010.

The object of the meeting with General Bolden was to increase the prospects of future NASA support for TSM and our plans for expanding to the Washington DC area - TSM East. NASA was very receptive. Their response was “collaborate and scale-up.”

NASA’s Associate Administrator of Education, Leland Melvin invited TSM to participate at an Education Summit in Orlando Florida in November with the goal of getting the many effective space education groups across the country to collaborate as a quick way of scaling up and multiplying those programs and practices that motivate young minds.

Ms. Nichols' long-time pal NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Lori Graver popped in to say “hi” before we ended our meeting. Deputy Graver, another strong advocate of space education, treated us to a tour of her private offices at Headquarters. It had been years since we had seen each other and we promised to correct that.

The result of the Summit was several new alliances formed with groups and individuals that we met there. It is safe to say that our good fortunes with NASA (among others) would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of Ms. Nichelle Nichols who never fails to mention how much TSM means to her. TSM extends a big shout-out and thank you to ‘Saturn’s Child’ who helped to open many a door for TSM in 2010!


(Left to right) NASA Ames Director, General Pete Worden, Noni Braxton, Deputy Director, Lewis Braxton III, TSM President, Ivor Dawson and Actress & TSM Spokesperson, Nichelle Nichols. (NASA photo)



Students from the California School for the Blind explore TSM’s Lunar Roving Vehicle. (TSM Photo)



“Commander” Nichelle Nichols after landing the Space Shuttle inside Ames’ most demanding Virtual Motion Simulator. Former astronaut, “Bo” Bobko earns his ‘backseat pilot’s license!’ (NASA photo)