Medical astronaut Yvonne Cagle, left, spoke to a group of kids yesterday during the National Medical Association's convention at the Sheraton-Waikiki. Fellow astronaut Robert Curbeam is behind her.

Sky’s not the limit,
astronauts say

Children of doctors meeting
in Hawaii get to hear
some motivational words

By Mary Vorsino

Why stop at the stars when you can shoot for beyond?

That's what NASA astronaut and physician Yvonne Cagle asked nearly 200 Hawaii and mainland African-American kids yesterday.

"Space is a wonderful classroom ... where the sky is no longer the limit," Cagle said in a two-hour educational lecture that sprinkled motivational messages into a tour of life as an astronaut.

The message was passed at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel to the children, ages 9 to 18, many of them children of doctors attending the National Medical Association's convention in Hawaii until Thursday.

Twelve-year-old Brittany Smith of Honolulu got the message.

"(I learned) you can accomplish big things in life," she said after the session.

Brittany said she remembers questioning herself after being chided in elementary school about her color.

"I was devastated. I didn't know what to do ... (but) I had to suck up and keep going."

Now, the Moanalua Middle School student has aspirations of becoming a judge.

Tiffany Palmer, a senior at Radford High School and one of five National African American Youth Initiative scholars honored at the forum, said Cagle and fellow astronaut Robert Curbeam's lessons helped her "stick to her goals" of becoming a veterinarian.

"Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it."

Curbeam, who has flown two space missions, and Cagle, both African American, told the children they have experienced prejudice, although, they added, they have had it much easier than those who came before them.

Cagle, 43, said, "I like to turn stumbling blocks into steppingstones."

And that was the tone that both Cagle and Curbeam stressed to their audience, a boisterous bunch who were awed at the mention of space and eager to ask questions.

"How do you brush your teeth in space?" one student asked.

The astronauts said a space traveler wets the toothbrush first, then applies the toothpaste, spits it out into a cloth and rinses the mouth with water and spits it out into the cloth.

"How much money do you get?" a girl asked Cagle.

Cagle did not answer the question directly: more than any other airport-related job, she said.

"How do you take a shower (in space)?" one boy asked Curbeam.

He said an astronaut uses no-rinse soap and shampoo and wipes it off with a cloth.

After the lecture, Cagle and Curbeam, wearing their blue NASA flight suits, took pictures with beaming children and signed autographs.

Cagle, a New York native who calls California home, got her doctorate in medicine at the University of Washington in 1985 and became a flight surgeon in 1988. In April 1996 she reported to Johnson Space Center in Houston for two years of training. She plans to take her first space flight in 2004.

Forty-year-old Curbeam graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991 with a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He has logged nearly 600 hours in space, including 19 hours on spacewalks.

Cagle said that by being a role model, she hopes to instill a "can do" attitude in young people that will give them the means to overcome personal and societal hurtles.

Curbeam, a father of two children, agreed.

"Getting back up when you get knocked down" is the perseverance that kids need to succeed today, he said.

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