I’m Pretty Much an Astronaut!

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a marine biologist, as well as the typical stuff, a vet, a mom, a teacher etc. I also wanted to be an astronaut. Sure, the astronaut stint was around the time the movie Space Camp came out. I saw that movie ten times, at least.

My dreams of space faded when I found out just how much math is involved with becoming any scientific type and way back then we didn’t have computers easily available to do our math for us… “When I was a kid we had to count on our fingers, instead of downloading iPhone apps to do it!”

With that my NASA dreams faded… that was 1986.

In the year 2009 I received a call. NASA wanted me! I had arrived! No, they didn’t want me to go to space, but they wanted me to come to The Kennedy Space Center and speak at their Spring Diversity Program, “It’s About Ability!” – There wasn’t even math involved!

And… the coolest part (although there are A LOT of coolest parts in this story) was that after my presentation, I was invited on a 4 hour, VIP tour of NASA. (Move over Space Camp! You can keep your freeze-dried ice cream!)

Aaron and I arrived at Cape Canaveral. (I could bring one assistant and my current assistant (sidekick) is in school full time, AND this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so what better side kick than my spouse?) The morning of the event we checked in at security, earlier in the month we had to provide al kinds of personal information in order to obtain security clearance. Let’s just say that I now have government clearance… probably top secret too, except I am not really allowed to tell you that… so shhhh, keep it on the down low!

NASA has THE BEST dot matrix photo ID printouts I have ever seen. Not kidding, Costco has nothing on NASA. My Season Pass at Snowbird looks like a child’s scribble compared to the perfection NASA produced. The worst picture ID card is from our neighborhood Recreation Center, and no, I am not saying that only because they took the photo AFTER I had worked out. (blech!) I am just saying they could REALLY learn a thing or two from NASA!

Once we got through security (we actually had to take a paper number out of one of those dispensers, which reminds you- oh, yeah, this IS a government agency like the Post Office) Bonni (should I have changed your name to protect the innocent?) took us to our first event.

NASA has a daycare.

The Child Development Center

The Child Development Center

Luckily it says Solar System, not Planets

Luckily it says Solar System, not Planets

Yep, scientists and technicians and engineers have children too you know. We pull up to the Day Care and the fire alarm goes off. (Luckily it’s only a drill) They passed the drill and everyone went back inside. When the kids were settled again we came in. Once inside, I heard whispers “sh, sh rainbow lady shh shhh rainbow lady” and then the noise got louder and clearer. “The Rainbow Lady!! THE RAINBOW LADY!!” They shouted.
T H E R A I N B O W L A D Y ! ! ! !

Hmmm… I’ve never been called that before, but it works. I came in, talked with the kids, read some stories and then asked them if they knew any Signing Time songs… they answered by bursting into song; “DO YOU KNOW THE COLORS OF OUR RAINBOW?” –at the top of their lungs. They sang the whole thing a ca pella. I stood there grinning. Their teachers were beaming. This was awesome!

Next we went to an auditorium, where the event, for the adults, was taking place. The auditorium holds a couple hundred, but my presentation would be filmed and broadcast over NASA TV where more than 10,000 people could access it. (just breathe)

I shared my family’s story and shared with them the amazing things that Leah and Lucy have taught me about how to treat people with disabilities and how each time I meet someone with a disability I get to learn something about myself.

Half-way through my presentation the 4 year-olds from the daycare came and showed off their mad signing skills, by performing “Colors of The Rainbow” with me for all the grown-ups. They did great!

I ended the presentation by sharing part of an interview I did with Lucy. I had asked her how it is to be in a wheelchair. Lucy’s insight continually blows my mind. She has a perspective I may never have and she shares it so brilliantly! She said, “I think when people see me, they see a little girl in a wheelchair, but when I see myself, I see a beautiful little girl!”

I could only follow that up with “Caterpillar Dreams.”

Then it was time to start our VIP tour! As we started out, we were told, “Feel free to ask any questions.”… I said, “I don’t even know enough about this to have any questions!”

Serious International Space Station!

The name says it all

The name says it all

This is a real model of the space station, but not THE real space station

This is a real model of the space station, but not THE real space station

Our VIP tour took us onto THE floor of the International Space Station Processing Facility.

The Leonardo

The Leonardo

Holy Orbiter Batman!

One of three buildings for processing orbiters

One of three buildings for processing orbiters

Aaron and I were under, over and right next to the Orbiter Discovery. Too cool!

Above and facing the cockpit

Above and facing the cockpit

Underneath Discovery

Underneath Discovery

The wings are covered to keep them protected

The wings are covered to keep them protected

Cargo area

Cargo area

Everyone in Acronyms!

Vehicle Assembly Building

Vehicle Assembly Building

We went through the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) one of the most recognizable buildings at The Kennedy Space Center. The stars on the American flag up there are 6 feet from point to point and they say you can drive a bus down those stripes… if you could get the bus to stick at that angle.

Next we went out to the shuttle launch pads. Both the Atlantis and the Endeavour were on launch pads, it’s pretty uncommon to see two shuttles on the launch pads at the same time.

The Endeavour is ready to go

The Endeavour is ready to go

The Atlantis is also ready to go

The Atlantis is also ready to go

Why Did The Turtle Cross The Road?

Move along little turtle

Move along little turtle

While driving from one launch pad to another, we stopped to move a turtle off the road… this is the sign for TURTLE. We joked that most likely, after we moved it to safety, it was snapped up by an alligator. We really did see alligators on the property too. Ah, the circle of life.

All Day and Night Crawler

This thing is massive!

This thing is massive!

Each cleat weighs 1 ton

Each cleat weighs 1 ton

The Crawler is about the size of a baseball diamond. It weighs 6 million pounds unloaded. It takes the shuttle and the mobile launcher platform from the VAB to the launch pad very, very slowly. One mile per hour! When loaded up with the shuttle it weighs 12 million pounds… and that is just way beyond my comprehension… too many pounds, just too many.

All I have to say is this, anyone who really believes the whole landing on the moon thing was a hoax is a complete dingbat… or else this is THE most elaborate government cover-up known to man. Who’s going to build 3 orbiters and pretend to service them for years and then fake a bunch of launches and landings? (Don’t answer that… just don’t.)

Thank you Bonni, Stephanie and Eric and all who took care of us and made this event so memorable! (Including you Tim!) Thank you NASA!

My Space Camp desire is currently quenched, with little to no mathematics. My 12 year-old self is at peace.

Who knows… maybe next year I will be invited to speak at Area 51. You know, they say it’s easier to cross a signed language barrier than a spoken language barrier. So, let me at those extraterrestrials, I bet I could teach those Aliens a sign or two!

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About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

30 thoughts on “I’m Pretty Much an Astronaut!

  1. Holy cow I beat Kei. Must be 1:50am EST or something.
    Not that you didn’t know this before, but you know that you’ve got a pretty amazing program when it is taught at NASA for crying out loud! That is awesome!

    PS. When I see Lucy I see bright, shining, happy, beautiful, squishable goodness. squishable=yummy cute

  2. Now about that “Grandkids” joke…Looking forward [today] to an empty nest:)
    Love the NASA pics. Once-in-a-lifetime! Look at all you know. Luvs

  3. Wow – just Wow! What an experience. I’ll look for your presentation on NASA TV!

    The shuttles are amazing creatures – I can not believe how well they have traveled over the years!

  4. Love it! How awesome for you!

    And, for what it’s worth, when I see Lucy, I always think, “I wonder what shampoo she uses? I want my daughter’s hair to do that.”

  5. LOL Jana! I know- I am way behind responding!
    Love the post & pics Rachel, and yes, as usual I needed a tissue! Lucy’s quote got me! She is a beautiful girl, with a great sense of wit and wisdom.

  6. Rainbow lady! My daughter LOVES to pretend to be the “teacher” and copy what grown-ups do, like reading to her stuffed animals just like the lady at Library storytime, well after coming to see you at LA Baby & Tween convention, and being up on stage with you (she was “purple”), she now sets up her stuffed animals in a row and sings & signs “Colors of the Rainbow” and will literally ask the animals to sign their colors. It has gone as far as her lining them up according to what color they are/are wearing, just like it was that day. She really has the whole routine down!

    Such a cool VIP tour! I remember going to Kennedy Space Center as a child, we got to watch the first launch following the Challenger (from WAY OUTSIDE the gates) and then our tour didn’t even include all the regular stuff because they had had the launch that morning. Looks like it was a fun trip!

    And we LOVE Lucy and her insight!

  7. Awesome for you Rainbow Lady!

    Tell Lucy when I see her I also see a beautiful girl! Isn’t it amazing the things our children teach us (and we thought WE were supposed to be the teachers)?

  8. Always enjoy reading your stories, because there are stories within each story….and so many take aways. The one that struck me today was your writing, “I don’t even know enough about this to have any questions!” It made me think of being a student being introduced to something new and complex, and those were my thoughts exactly!
    There is always so much detail in your blogs too; I felt my appetite growing to go visit the newer Air and Space museum near our home: Udvar Haazy.
    I think the title of Rainbow Lady is such a high compliment and fitting for someone who has shown us her many colors and beauty in her many talents.

  9. I’m so happy that you are back to blogging. I was missing your adventures that you share with all of us. Plus, NASA? Oh, soo cool!

    PS – Great to see you in SD. My boys are still talking about it and if my little miss could talk… she would be too!

  10. I cannot even believe how jealous of you I am. That is exactly what I wanted to do as a kid until, just like you, I saw how much math and science it required. I STILL would pay everything I had to be able to take a trip on a shuttle. *sigh* Discovery would be awesome because that’s the one I have a connection with. I saw it there at Kennedy on the launch pad as a little girl (too bad we couldn’t see it lift off), saw it land at Edwards as a teenager, and saw it piggy-back on an airplane here in SLC. It would have been so neat to see it as close as you did. :^) Maybe someday I’ll be famous like you are and get to do that. hehe Thanks for sharing!

    I loved the “Rainbow Lady” too. :^)

  11. So exciting about NASA — good for you and congratulations for being asked to go! We took my sons there in January and Ian– seven years old with CP — got even more out of it than I had hoped! Now, this summer, he is having an “outer space” birthday party! Way to go, Rachel! Keep up the amazing work — because of you, my son knows more signs than his teachers, para’s and SLP all put together!

    Gig Harbor, WA

  12. OMG!!! I am a HUGE NASA nut. I follow every space Shuttle mission. Every time we go to FL I have to visit the KSC even though I have been there a hundred times. If it wasn’t for my asthma I would so apply to be an astronaut. Some day I would like to find a job in the NASA field. Even working at their day care would satisfy me lol!
    I am so glad that you were able to tell us about your journey to NASA. The pictures are incredible!
    The kids singing the ranibow song is too cute! and now you have a new nick name! Rainbow lady!

  13. oh how fun!!! We had fun singing colors of the rainbow with you in San Diego on saturday 🙂 We got to go and stage and sign green with you !!!

  14. Ah…HOME!
    Thanks for taking a picture of the turtle…you know, since I won the iSpy that day! 🙂
    There are days when I feel like I can’t handle much more, and then I read stuff that you write, and I remember that God has a plan for us all…and maybe he set us on this path together to just show some love….
    (the next time you go to NASA you have to let me know. My real life BFF from Orlando’s husband is the guy that does the “3,2,1…blastoff” thing. I mean, it’s really his voice—!!! WOW! 🙂

  15. How awesome Rainbow Lady! My 19-month old son loves your DVDs, we’ve watch all of the first Signing Time series many times and I have to say that volume 6 is one of our favourites. He has learned so much and so have we, and I have to say that you have taught us so much about people with disabilities too. You have two very beautiful, intelligent, and insightful daughters, thank-you for sharing them with all of us.

  16. Jana Francis: Thanks Jana. And yes, I believe you just summed up Miss Lucy.

    Jess: So sad that we now communicate primarily via blog comments. FYI I just wrote about you in my autobiography… no promises, you may get edited out and I didn’t throw you under the bus… yet.

    RobMonroe: For sure, don’t you think we went to space WAY before our time? It’s amazing how much technology has not been updated in the space program.

    Kenneth Lilly: Thanks Ken! We are all about fun and adventure. I’m glad you are finding the DVDs useful.

    Missy: We really had a great time and learned so much. I too think “Rainbow Lady” rocks.

    mandi: Hmm, what is it you want your daughter’s hair to do, exactly? Because I struggle with Lulu’s. She uses Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo and Conditioner. But seriously, what is it you want her hair to do, because I feel like a failure, in the hair department, as a mom.

    the gypsy mama: Ah, the black armband;) It is actually a BodyBugg and it makes me accountable for how many calories I burn and how many calories I eat. LOL For what it’s worth, it works.
    Lucy is the inspiration though, check out “Strong Enough To Be Your Mom” and watch for the follow up to that post.

    Marie Smith: It was awesome and overwhelming and great.

    Kei: Get your sleep when you can Kei. And I promise I was not trying to make you cry.

    Jaclyn: Sounds like your daughter is ready to be my understudy. I would love to see a launch in real life. I bet it is majestic. There was a chance they would cancel my presentation if the launches got moved around.

    Leanna: I am SO clear that we have kids so that they can teach us, not the other way around.

    Anita Phares: Thanks Anita, you are great. I keep reminding myself that it is GOOD to be in over my head and way out of my comfort zone… it’s how I grow.

    Holly: Heh, heh- “back to blogging” (sigh) I have blogs piled up all over my computer… now publishing them… that’s another story. I’m glad to know you think my shenanigans are interesting. Mostly I blog so you guys can say, “Wow, Ray’s a mess too!”

    Erica: I’m with you! Geez, give me a shuttle flight simulator! I’ll take it.

    Jennifer: I’m glad Ian has learned so much from us! NASA sent all kinds of info for Leah and Alex to read. Stickers and cool stuff like pieces of the Discovery payload bay liner material.

    Tiffany: If you’ll take anything… go work in the gift shop! Though I would pick the Daycare personally.

    Kate: Nice work! Cute room.

    Kristi: I just about cry every time I sing it and see Lucy on the big screen with those wings!

    misti: Oh good! Thanks for signing with me.

    Googsmom: Am I going to see you this year? Seaside, OR?

    Heather: Did I actually declare a winner? It’s all an I Spy blur.
    We should have used him for 3, 2, 1 blast off on Baby Signing Time.

    Alison: You are very welcome. Interesting that #6 is your favorite, I wonder why that is. I don’t think I have a favorite. There are some that I love for insider reasons. The inside jokes or useless Signing Time Trivia that surround certain moments or even lines in songs – I wish I could watch a show with you guys and just tell you all the great, funny stuff!

  17. Hi Rachel!
    Thanks so much for sharing this with us! Our family has been watching Signing Time for nearly two years now, many thanks to the librarian who introduced us to them. From time to time now my son, Jack asks me “how do you sign…” this or that. The funny thing is in the last two weeks he has been asking me how to sign “Meteor”!! I told him I would email Rachel and ask her! If you can tell me please do, it’s turned into a daily question now. I asked if he wanted the “Meteor” sign for a cartoon he watches on another channel? He said “No mom, the ones you see from the space ships!” He will be four this summer.

    Last October we watched “Who has the frog” and you would laugh, he put on his guitar and played along with all the songs and looked at me and said “We need to write Rachel a thank you note” So, THANK YOU!!! From the bottom of our hearts. It was amazing when he was two and would teach his dad a new sign at least twice a week. He is not deaf, but when we decided I would stay home full time with him, I was bound and determined to teach him another language. He picked up the signs so quick and his vocabulary exploded!! Not to mention the three of us have bonded in ways I would never have imagined. It’s amazing to see him touch his father’s hands and say “No daddy you sign family like this” and he moves his hands for him!! He’s getting ready for pre-school and every time a family member asks him what he will learn there, his response is always the same “More Sign Wanguage” 🙂 I hope he’s not too disappointed when he gets there! AND he’s showing signs of reading readiness!! He recognizes the words from your show everywhere! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

    I read your blog just about every week now as well. I remember Spring Break ’08 I had my 8 year old niece for the week. I had them watch “Leah’s Farm” all week and took them to a little zoo here in town and they knew all the signs. We also got to take a tractor ride with a farmer. The man had strict instructions, sit, don’t put your hands out….my son was in awe. He never said a word the entire time. I had to sign everything to him and he signed back. It was amazing. I noticed a “normal” family with two small children watching us. They kind of looked at me with this face, like “awe that’s a shame” I guess the shame was really on them!! But, I will share I kinda got the feeling of what it may have been like if I did have a hearing impaired child and the kind of strange looks you get. Kind of made me think of the time Lucy’s bus driver said “What’s her problem?” I have managed to find friends in the deaf community in our area and I know my son has learned love, compassion and most of all to treat all kids no matter what they look like the same. For that I am truly grateful. So, thank you so much for sharing your family with ours. I cannot say how much it means to me.
    With love,
    The Lollobrigido Family

  18. Rachel – I’ll bet there’s a lot of funny stuff going on behind the scenes, we’ve seen a peak of some of it in the special features. You asked why volume 6 was one of our favorites – we started watching it when my son was about 14 months old and not speaking too much yet, but signing up a storm. We were teaching him colors and volume 6 was the perfect compliment. He knew how to sign all his colors before he said any of them. Your videos are also how my husband and I learn the signs so we can teach him all kinds of things. We all enjoy them a lot, my son requests them all the time by walking up to the TV and signing “time”.

    I also love the song “I’m really good at walking, I’m really good at walking…..” so cute! We dance around to that. And count me down as another person at gets choked up at Caterpiller Dreams in volume 8.

    By the way, I’m really excited about the possibility of adding other languages to Signing Time. We’ve just started teaching Spanish to my son through DVD (Whistlefritz), my husband and I don’t know that either so we’re learning along with him. I think it would great for him (us) to learn on Signing Time as well. We’re also going to tackle French and Tagalog (my husband is Filipino) while my son is still young. Ambitious, I know, but having a child and watching them learn to communicate is just so inspiring. We’re going to keep up with ASL too, learn as much as we can by DVD and then probably start taking classes at some point.

  19. Rachel —

    I have a little girl in a wheelchair too and I was touched by Lucy’s thoughts on how other’s see her. I want Lucy to know that many people see her as the beautiful little girl she is too. I know my eyes have been opened and I make sure I look for the beauty of every child — in a wheelchair, with a disability, or not. There is such beauty there.

    My daughter has Sotos Syndrome and I was excited to hear that you will be presenting at their annual conference. I’m bummed that I won’t be able to attend. We’ve been using your Signing Times DVD’s since my Gracie was about 9 months old. I’m thrilled to say she now knows 4 signs at just under age 2. We’re making progress!!!


  20. Hi Rachel!! Thanks for your comment on my blog (I kept saying…oh my gosh, it can’t actually be HER!) about the oh so wrong theft of our Baby Signing Time DVD. It just so happens that the one that was in the player belongs to our local library, and I was actually more worried about it than the player initially. Can’t be having all kinds of fines, you know!!

    I appreciate your offer, (and we’d be more than honored!!!) but I felt I had to be honest that it wasn’t *our* copy that was in jeopardy. :o)

    Braska keeps asking (signing and speaking) for BST, specifying “wind!” as it was the New Day disc… she only had it 2 days before it was snatched (and we’ll get it back from evidence, hopefully soon) but she’d already watched it enough times to remember and practice the signs.

    I’m sure you hear it enough to get old, but what these mean to my little one is beyond description…she can NOT get enough of them. We own vol 1 and 2 of BST, and I credit them a great deal with how amazing her signing and speech are. (More credit to BST than even to the speech therapist in our case!!Ha!)

    Many Blessings!!

  21. Regina: I do not know a sign for meteor and can’t find that one anywhere. Which means you’re just gong to have to finger spell it.
    Tell Jack, “I got your thank you note!”

    Alison: Good to know someone is watching the special features! With how often people ask me why I have colors on my fingers, I wonder.

    Lisa Duncan: Go Gracie go!

    RK: Yep, it’s REALLY me:) I have my own “celebrity” it can’t REALLY be them, story. Happened when I was 20 years old and I thought, “Man if I am ever in that kind of position and if I ever have the chance, I am going to do that!” So, you can thank the band Grant Lee Buffalo.

    I’ll be in touch!

  22. I know you probably get this a lot, but I just can’t thank you enough for making Signing Time! I got my son to watch them recently, and he’s just going crazy for them. And they are helping me too! My son was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss (severe in one, profound in the other) just a year ago, and I’m trying my hardest to learn as fast as I can. He’s 6 now, so we lost a lot of valuable communication time. Thankfully I had done some sign with him prior to this, so he had at least a bit of a vocabulary. Long story, but the short version is that he was born with an omphalocele and spent the first 4 months in the hospital. I kept getting told by professionals that the communication delay was a hospital delay, then a global delay, then probably autism. None of that fit to me, so after an off handed comment by yet another specialist that he didn’t respond to a bell, I did some of my own testing at home and brought him to an audiologist. He responded so well to vibration and movement, and to me–I guess it was a blessing and curse that I instinctivly always talked to him on his level– that he fooled everyone for close to 6 years. So I was VERY excited by a diagnosis that really made sense to me, and that I finally knew how to help him. He’s learning sign now and loving it! Thank you for helping him, and for helping me to help him!

  23. Dear Rachel,
    Do you have a video with the signs for space, space shuttles, astronaut, planets..?
    Wow! that NASA experience looked amaizing. My son would love to go there. He is 5 and really into space, planets, nasa and space shuttles. He really likes learning new signs and would love to learn about what he is into. He was a space shuttle for halloween. I had to make his costume because I did not know where to find one. It took a lot of drawing, planning and studying. He was the external field tank, then he had the space shuttle with the two booster rockets. Anyway it turned out pretty cool I think (how can I send you the picture). He got several complements. He wants to be an astronaut.

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