Nikhita Celebrates National Astronaut Day

Stepping into the world of the Advanced Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama last summer felt like diving headfirst into a cosmic adventure. Surrounded by the echoes of astronaut footsteps and the hum of simulated spacecraft, every moment pulsed with the excitement of exploration. But the real magic happened during the award ceremony, where I got to meet two living legends: astronaut Hoot Gibson and Apollo astronaut Charles Duke.

Shaking hands with Hoot Gibson, an astronaut whose very presence embodies the spirit of adventure, was incredible. His stories were like portals to another dimension, weaving tales of bravery and discovery that left us all in awe. He told us about his missions on the Space Shuttle, taking the famous photo of a floating astronaut over the Earth, and “ending” the Cold War with a handshake with Vladimir Dezhurov during the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, I shook hands with Charles Duke, an Apollo 16 astronaut who had actually walked on the moon. Meeting him was like touching history—a reminder that the impossible is just a challenge waiting to be conquered. He regaled us with tales of being Mission Control during the Apollo 11 mission, being the youngest person ever to step foot on the Moon, and how a high jump on the Moon almost cost him his life.

In those moments, surrounded by legends of space travel, I felt a connection not just to the stars, but to the people who dared to reach for them. Space Camp wasn't just about learning the ropes of space exploration; it was about embracing the boundless potential within each of us to shoot for the moon and beyond. Graduating from the Advanced Space Academy left me with a newfound sense of purpose and determination. Because if there's one thing I learned from meeting Hoot Gibson and Charles Duke, it's that the sky is not the limit—it's just the beginning of our journey into the great unknown.

Written by Nikhita Penugonda

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