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A letter to NASA

I think it’s easy for those of us who work at NASA to sometimes forget that WE WORK AT NASA! For many of us, it’s a job, with frustrations and mundane paperwork, just like any other place of employment has. And then we get a reminder of where we actually are. Sometimes it’s in the form of a visiting crew of astronauts. Sometimes it’s seeing real flight hardware. And sometimes it’s because we get to see our jobs through someone else’s eyes.

No, we’re not all astronauts at Goddard (though there are a few here), but the work done here is important and it’s real.

I was reminded again of the inspirational power that NASA has when I got this letter from a friend. She wrote, “With the final shuttle touching down yesterday, NASA has obviously been on my mind a lot lately. I wonder if I could ask you a little favor. I wrote a letter just thanking everybody in the program. There are so many people who make space happen, and with the end of the shuttle era, I wanted to send out my appreciation for everything all of you do. Could you maybe print this and post it somewhere at Goddard, on a bulletin board perhaps, or by a water cooler? It’s not just a thank you to the people who worked on the shuttles, its for all of you. It’s not much, but space is such a part of my life, and you’re the only person I know now who works for NASA in any capacity.”

I was really touched by this, and so I thought I would post her words here (with her permission), so that more people (and hopefully some that work at NASA) could see it and know that they daily touch the lives of many, just by doing what they’re doing. Reminders like this are a good thing, especially when our jobs become just jobs, that NASA really is a special place to be.

STS-135 Landing
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The full text of her letter is behind the cut.

July 20, 2011

To the Men and Women of NASA:

I do not know how to start this letter. It is difficult to put into words what I’m feeling right now, but I started this damn letter, so I’d better give it a try.

I remember when I was a little girl, my mother and I would sit and watch the shuttle launches on tv. She would smile when one got off, and say, “Your grandfather used to work for NASA at the University of Chicago.” It made me so proud. There was a time, before I realized that math is hard, that I wanted to be an astronaut myself. I think every kid of my generation wanted that at some point. Most of us grew up to be doctors or lawyers or actors (like me), but unlike most, I never stopped looking up at the heavens and dreaming.

As I got older, my interests matured with the rest of me. “Apollo 13” came out when I was fifteen, and I watched, rapt, and then bought Captain Lovell’s book and devoured it. I would listen to news reports about NASA missions and saw the ISS being built. I saw nations work together in the vacuums of space, nations that had once had missiles of war aimed at each other, and sometimes still did. And, I started to realize that this awesome thing, this adventure of space exploration, was becoming something largely ignored. The shuttles still went up, but the news relegated them to the end of their broadcasts. NASA turned into little “human-interest” pieces. People stopped looking up the way they used to, dreaming of the stars and marveling at the feat of space travel, the courage and the wonder of it, the incredible achievements we had made and were still making.

I got excited about Constellation. I read about the new Orion capsules and the new LEM, looked at the designs for the new space suits. I cheered when I saw the new lunar vehicle roll by the President’s pavilion at his inauguration. I hoped for a time when we would return to the moon and outward, when we would blaze new trails again. And, I felt the disappointment of the Augustine commission report, and the budget cuts that followed.

I want to express my heartfelt and sincere gratitude to all of you, to all the men and women of NASA who have dedicated their lives to this greatest of adventures. You captured the imagination of a little girl glued to her tv, watching the roar of the Saturn rocket taking another mission into the air. I cried in 1986, and again in 2003, my horror just a fraction of what you all must have felt, and still feel, over Challenger and Columbia. I celebrated in 2009 with the Anniversary of Apollo 11, elated to get to meet Buzz Aldrin and one of my personal heroes, Jim Lovell, when they spoke in Chicago. I felt my heart pull as Charles Bolden cried while he spoke at the anniversary and the retirement of the shuttle program, and announced where each vessel would come to rest.

I have laughed, I have wept, and I have hoped, all the while looking up into the sky.

I know in the months and the years to come, NASA will go on, and it will change. Soyuz craft will take our men and women into space for a while, and one day perhaps Atlas rockets will lift the Orion capsules there from a Florida launch pad again. Mission Control will be a quieter place for a time. The ghosts of Gemini and Apollo, and of the shuttles, will sometimes outnumber the people there. But, I will still look up into the sky and wonder. I will still dream of a time when we will walk again across the face of the moon, and travel onward. And, I will never forget the bravery and the incredible fortitude of all of you, past and present, who have taken us to the stars.

So much time is spent talking of the hardware of the space program: the shuttles, the capsules, the rockets, the station. But, NASA is not made of hardware. It is made of people.

After my grandfather passed away, my mother found commendations he had received for his work with NASA, hidden among his things, awards and thank-yous he had never even spoken of. He was humble about it all; he had just been a small part of a larger program, working on experiments and data, not even in Houston or the Cape, was only present for one of the launches (a highlight of his life). He had done it not for gratitude or lauds, but for the science, for the discovery. He had not seen it as so very extraordinary, what he did. But, my mother told me a story of one day when she was a little girl. He had taken her into the lab on a Saturday morning; he had needed to check on an experiment, and she tagged along. While she was there, he came over and handed her a copper ring, telling her to hold it. A few minutes later, he came back and took it, placing it back on a shelf. He had looked at her, seriously, and said, “Now your fingerprints are going to Mars.”

Space belongs to the world, and the world will continue its exploration. But, for so many years, it has been so very personal for us as Americans. NASA is people, each doing their job quietly, without thanks, making sure our astronauts get home, working together to learn about the vast reaches that extend beyond our little blue planet. As this era ends and we all hope for a new one, I just wanted to say that you are appreciated, you are remembered for all that you have done.

This letter doesn’t say everything I wish it could, and it doesn’t say any of it very well. But in the end, I suppose all it really needs to say is: thank you.
Thank you.


Heather Breo

Thanks, Heather, for those lovely thoughts. Here are a few pictures she sent with her letter.

Heather's Grandfather
Heather’s grandfather (striped shirt) in the 1960s.

Heather Meeting Buzz Aldrin
Heather meeting Buzz Aldrin. Credit: Heather Breo

And don’t get me wrong, even if we sometimes forget, I think it’s safe to say that most of us do work here because we are such fans of NASA.

Here’s me at age 14 at Space Camp:

Maggie at SpaceCamp
Maggie in the orbiter simulator at SpaceCamp

Astronaut Paul Richards, who works at Goddard (and also helped us out with our Fancy Fast Food video collaboration), also dreamed of being an astronaut from the time he saw the very first shuttle launch.

He reminisced about his career at NASA at a recent Goddard celebration of the shuttle program:

You can see more of NASA Goddard’s perspective on the final shuttle flight and learn about the support role Goddard has played for shuttle missions in this NASA Goddard Flickr set.

Goddard's NIC: Final Shuttle Landing
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Debbie McCallum

Please note the opinions expressed in this blog are those of their respective owners and not of NASA.



  • Michele Cohen says:

    Excellent letter. My father worked at Houston, LA and Lockeheed in PA and NJ. He is still working there and we are proud of his work and love walking through the Air & Space Museum in DC pointing to all of the things he worked on.

  • Jean Masetti says:

    Amazing letter. When I read it I think it spoke for all of us who have followed the space program and wanted to be apart of it. It made us proud!
    I thank you all at NASA too.

  • žogi says:

    I live in a small country Latvia so working for NASA isn’t possible for me but I’m always wondering… how it is to be there.. to be a part of NASA! This letter was something similar to what I had in my mind, thanks and good luck!

  • John says:

    Houston we have a problem! Nice letter! :)

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