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Studying space, inspiring scientists

Alex Longo and Jim Free, the director for NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio at the September ceremony.
Alex Longo and Jim Free, the director for NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio at the September ceremony.

Sometimes even some of the nation’s strongest minds need some inspiration.

So, they turned to Alex Longo, a ninth-grader at The Montessori School of Raleigh, who shared how NASA’s accomplishments have influenced him and other children across the nation.

In the past year, Alex, 14, has made two presentations at NASA events. In May, Alex was invited to speak at NASA’s First Landing Site Workshop for the 2020 Mars Rover Mission.

His presentation ended up being so moving, said his mother Laura Longo, Jim Free, the director for NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, invited Alex to give the keynote speech at an awards ceremony in September.

Glenn Research Center, one of 10 NASA centers, researches, designs, develops and tests innovative technology for aeronautics and spaceflight.

So, Alex and his family flew to Cleveland, and he spoke at a ceremony that recognized 96 individuals and 650 team members for exceptional achievements in science, technology, engineering, craftsmanship, leadership and administrative service.

Alex’s interest in space started when he was 5 after watching the launch of the STS-114, which was known as NASA’s “return to flight mission” as it was the first following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Alex hasn’t missed a launch since.

“I wanted to learn more about space. I started reading books, learning more about the space shuttle, and then the Mars Rover,” and everything else that NASA does, Alex said.

Leading up the workshop for the 2020 Mars Rover mission in May, NASA posted a request for scientific abstracts discussing the landing site for the next Mars Rover.

Alex said he felt he had something to contribute, so he submitted a four-page abstract to the open call.

“Not really expecting much to come of it,” he said.

The abstract argued that Mars Rover mission should return to Gusev’s Crater, where the robotic roaming vehicle Spirit landed in 2004.

“Gusev Crater’s geologic goldmine, along with the public relations benefits associated with returning to (Mars Exploration Rover) Spirit, make it an ideal landing site for Mars 2020,” his presentation states.

The presentation also discussed how the Spirit inspired future scientists who will play important roles in the 2020 mission.

After Alex was invited to make a 20-minute presentation at the Mars 2020 workshop in Washington, D.C., in May, he started working on his speech and public speaking techniques. Alex said looking people in the eyes make him nervous.

“I put my eye on a point on the wall,” he said. “And I speak from the heart.”

For his second speech in Cleveland, Alex said he was a little bit more confident as he shared that the Apollo mission to the moon taught him about being part of something bigger than himself and sharing talents as a team.

In an email, Free said Alex’s speech inspired NASA employees to continue to do great work.

“I believe employees left feeling proud of their hard work and dedication to NASA’s mission and encouraged that Alex and his generation are dreaming big for NASA’s future,” Free wrote.

Alex said he is continuing to read about space, but now he has better contacts to reach out to for information.

“I actually know people who are working at NASA, and they are still teaching me,” about space, he said.

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