July 20th, 1969 was a remarkable day in American history. The country watched in awe as Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. changed the future of space exploration. As Neil Armstrong said his famous words and took the first steps on the moon, he became a hero to millions.
Armstrong served as a role model and inspired many young Americans, especially a 7-year-old Greg H. Johnson. Johnson let the Apollo 11 mission guide his curiosities into space. Johnson had known that after witnessing the feat Armstrong had accomplished, that he wanted to be an astronaut too.
“I was very inspired,” remarked Johnson of the televised event. “I mean it was very clear to me, even today, that Neil Armstrong was my number one.”
Johnson made that dream come true and has since led a very successful career in the world of aerospace. Johnson is a retired NASA Astronaut, former test pilot and former President and Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). He focuses a lot of his time giving back to the future STEM generations through his non-profit work. Johnsons love for space shines through his enjoyment of STEM education.
Johnson’s journey to space started off in his studies and his time in the military. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1984 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The following year he attained his Masters in Flight Structures Engineering from Columbia University. In 1987 he became a designated Air Force pilot at Reese Air Force Base. When Johnson returned home in 1993 from his second deployment in the Persian Gulf War, he encountered another individual that helped guide him into space.
Major General Charles F. Bolden is a retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot and retired NASA Astronaut. He was also the NASA Administrator under the Obama Administration. After a chat with the former Space Shuttle pilot for STS –31, Johnson asked Bolden if his longtime dream of becoming an astronaut was possible.
“…he goes it’s absolutely possible,” said Johnson. “He said go to test pilot school and do really well. And so, I did what the man said. I applied for test pilot school the next week. I went to Edwards and worked my tail off. One thing led to another and I made it into the Astronaut Corps…”
Johnson had a successful career with NASA. He piloted two Space Shuttle flights, STS-123 and STS-134. Both missions were with Space Shuttle Endeavor. STS-123 was a mission to deliver the first segment of Kibo, the Japan Aerospace Explorations Agency module and the Canadian Space Agency module, Dextre. STS-134 was Endeavors final flight. The crew was taking up key supplies, communications antennas, and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – 2 (AMS). Johnson received NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2012 and two NASA Space Medals.
Armstrong fueled the spark and Bolden gave Johnson the final push to do what he dreamed of as a 7-year old boy. Johnson is currently an active member in Higher Orbits Go For Launch! program. He has been the lead astronaut for five Go For Launch! events and will be leading the Traverse City, MI event in August.
“…you are working with these kids and you get to know them and all of a sudden, it’s like a light bulb turns on you know,” Johnson explained. “The kid goes from being interested to being REALLY interested or just they get it.”
Johnson’s favorite aspect of Go For Launch! is being able to help students find that inspiration as they explore the space and STEM fields. Johnson strives to be a role model for students, the same way Armstrong was for him.
Johnson serves as a board member for many non-profits and has been busy over the span of the pandemic. He has been active in virtual talks to continue STEM education to students of all grade levels, adults, and international groups.
After witnessing Apollo 11 unfold on TV, it is no wonder Johnson enjoys helping the young STEM community. The success of Apollo 11 was an impactful moment in Johnson’s life as it ignited his passions and curiosities into space. Giving students the opportunity to find that passion is Johnson’s way of giving back.
“I remember that I am not Neil Armstrong…” remarked Johnson. “…but maybe, I can have that sort of impact on somebody along the way.”
Blog written by Katy Thompson