May 7, 2004: Headlines: COS - Dominican Republic: Space: Science: Education: NASA: Ocala Star-Banner: Dominican Republic RPCV Joe Acaba selected for NASA program

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Dominican Republic: Special Report: RPCV Joseph Acaba: Joseph Acaba: Archived Stories: May 7, 2004: Headlines: COS - Dominican Republic: Space: Science: Education: NASA: Ocala Star-Banner: Dominican Republic RPCV Joe Acaba selected for NASA program

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Dominican Republic RPCV Joe Acaba selected for NASA program

Dominican Republic RPCV  Joe Acaba selected for NASA program

Dominican Republic RPCV Joe Acaba selected for NASA program

Rocket man
Dunnellon science teacher selected for NASA program

Published May 07. 2004 7:30AM

Staff Writer

DUNNELLON - At Dunnellon Middle School Thursday, students went wild. To the sounds of the school’s band, they cheered, shouted and waved flags in honor of one of their own.

Then, they really went crazy.

Across a giant overhead screen, NASA gave official word: Dunnellon Middle teacher Joe Acaba has a chance to go into space.

The science teacher was one of three educators to be named to NASA’s new astronaut class Thursday. The 11-member team will report to the Johnson Space Center in Houston this summer for a two-year training program and later help develop and test a replacement space shuttle under President Bush’s space exploration program.

NASA’s astronaut class of 2004 is the first to be formed since the agency announced plans to resume space exploration. The group — which includes pilots, engineers and scientists — is also the first to include Educator Astronauts, teachers who will travel to space to inspire and teach students back home.

According to NASA officials, few of the new candidates are expected to travel into space. Space exploration has been grounded since the Columbia disintegrated last year, and NASA has more than 100 astronaut candidates, some of whom have been waiting since 1998 for flights.

But that didn’t damper the excitement at Dunnellon Middle School.

Though word leaked out about Acaba’s accomplishment several weeks ago, the school hosted a celebration assembly Thursday in conjunction with NASA’s announcement, which came on "Space Day."

Hundreds of students wearing shirts that read "Way to Go Joe NASA’s Teacher in Space" and waving miniature flags also bearing the teacher’s name crowded the steamy gymnasium, which was decorated with patriotic colors.

Prior to NASA’s announcement, students and teachers paid tribute to Acaba, who began teaching at the school in 2000. While watching a video, students chuckled at photographs of a young Acaba, who dreamed of someday becoming an astronaut. They also cracked up during footage of Acaba shedding his long hair for the training program and gasped when the adventurous 36-year-old bungee jumped from a hot air balloon.

During a previously taped video, Acaba, who was attending NASA’s Space Day festivities in Virginia on Thursday, told interviewers he planned to bring family photos, the Puerto Rican flag and hot tamales into space.

"Other than being the first man on Mars, this is what I want to do," Acaba said. "I just hope to inspire as many kids as I can. You need to dream big. If you don’t, you don’t have anything high to achieve."

Eighth-grader Jared Simpkins said Acaba often discussed the Educator Astronaut program and showed videos of space flight training during class.

"I think it’s pretty cool. Seems like he really wanted to do this," Simpkins said.

Last fall, Acaba traveled to Houston after learning he was one of three dozen educators being considered for the program. Along with Acaba, NASA selected two other educators for the class: Ricky Arnold, a science and math teacher from Romania, and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, a science teacher from Fort Collins, Colo.

Perhaps the only downside to Thursday’s announcement was confirmation that Acaba would be leaving the school.

"Joe Acaba is a living embodiment of everything we teach our students," Dunnellon Middle principal Juan Cordova said. "Work hard and good things will happen to you. Dunnellon Middle School is going to share Joe Acaba with the rest of the world."

Steven Ray Haberlin covers education. He can be reached at or 867-4157.

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Story Source: Ocala Star-Banner

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Dominican Republic; Space; Science; Education; NASA



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