Retired astronaut Bernard Harris speaks with OU students about careers in science, engineering

Monday, Bernard Harris, a retired NASA astronaut, was at the University of Oklahoma, working with about 50 middle school students from around the state. Harris' visit is a part of a science and engineering camp his foundation sponsors in conjunction with ExxonMobil.
by Silas Allen Modified: June 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm •  Published: June 11, 2012

When Bernard Harris was a boy, his friends thought he was crazy for dreaming of being an astronaut.

Years later, when Harris was on the brink of a career as an astronaut, many of those around him thought the same thing.

It was the early 1990s — only a few years after the explosion of the Challenger shuttle — and many of his friends couldn't imagine why anyone would want to go to work for NASA. But Harris pressed on, eventually realizing his goal of walking in space.

“To me, having dreams and achieving those dreams is what life is all about,” he said.

Harris, 55, flew two space shuttle missions between 1991 and 1996. During a mission in 1995, he became the first African-American to walk in space.

Monday, Harris was at the University of Oklahoma, working with about 50 middle school students from around the state. Harris' visit is a part of a science and engineering camp his foundation sponsors in conjunction with ExxonMobil.

About 20 two-week camps are scheduled nationwide this summer, including a similar one at Southwestern Oklahoma State University this week.

Students on Monday designed and built spacesuit material samples using 14 layers of household materials like aluminum foil, wax paper and foam. The materials had to be durable enough to stand up to pressure, but stay within a given budget, said Holly Mills, OU's director for pre-collegiate programs.

Dart test

After students built the samples, camp directors tested them by dropping a dart onto them and counting the number of layers the dart penetrated.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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