Libraries across the state are using the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing as a springboard for a space-based summer reading program, called the Universe of Stories. As a part of that, retired NASA astronaut Rex Walheim will be touring south central Alaska this week.
Claudia Haines is the Youth Services Librarian at the Homer library. She helped coordinate Walheim’s visit through a NASA program.
“We are always looking for creative ways to help kids, teens and their families connect with reading and learning at the library. And I thought, NASA has this astronaut appearance program, why not help kids in Alaska, particularly in Homer, the Peninsula, Anchorage and Wasilla, really see what’s possible. And to know that kids from Alaska can do something so great as go to space.”
Walheim was a mission specialist on three shuttle flights to the International Space Station, including the last shuttle mission in 2011. He’s spent more than 23 days in space with 36 hours of spacewalks. Haines says his tour through south central is being paid for with contributions from the libraries and also a pair of grants from the Alaska State Library.
“That is probably the biggest piece. And what’s a little different about Rex Walheim’s visit is because he’s paid by NASA, there’s no extra performance fees, and so the grants and what the libraries are contributing is solely paying for his travel which actually makes it a great deal for us.”
James Adcox is the Children’s Librarian in Kenai. He says the topic of space is a good jumping off point for summer learning because it’s approachable and interesting.
“Knowing the astronaut was going to be in Kenai Thursday, I did a space-themed story time for our younger patrons and it was a lot of fun. We had a little boy about five or six who told me he was going to have a space-themed birthday next week because he loves space. I do think the excitement around space travel and astronauts just adds so much wonder to any young person’s imagination and just looking up at the stars and the moon and hopefully contemplating how did we do that? How’d we get up there? Just really neat subject matter for a library to have.”
Walheim will be at the Homer library at noon Wednesday for a meet and greet, followed by a presentation at 6 p.m. He’ll be in Kenai Thursday afternoon at the Challenger Learning Center at three and at the Soldotna library Thursday night at 6.