For the Love of Space: LHS Helpdesk Student and MIT Alum and Engineer attend Apollo 50/50 Conference by Nick Orlando

     How does a Lynnfield High School sophomore find him/herself in the same room as sixteen astronauts, including the former director of NASA, and a man who walked on the moon?
     The LHS Helpdesk has a strong partnership with the Lynnfield Senior Center.  The seniors visit the LHS makerspace about once a month for technology help and one on one tutorials with the seniors citizens. Over the course of the program, the students have been able to form relationships with the seniors citizens. The program has been beneficial to both the students and the senior citizens. The senior citizens are now better able to talk to their children and grandchildren across the country using the apps and technology tools we have shown them and they are more confident in using technology.         One particular relationship that I have formed has been with Frank Walsh, who organizes the class at the Senior Center. Mr. Walsh is a really cool and intelligent guy. I learned that he is an alumni of both Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. After graduating MIT in the 1960s, Frank started working at MIT’s Draper Lab, where he worked on the Apollo Guidance computer, by testing the software and programs in a mock up of the Apollo command and lunar modules.  As we met during the technology sessions, we realized that we both shared a passion for space and engineering.
     Since he is an MIT alum, Frank  is invited to many conferences and events at MIT, including the most recent Apollo 50/50 Conference. After our discussions regarding my interests in the space program and engineering during one of our visits with the Senior Center, he invited me to join him at the conference.
     On March 13th,  I attended the conference with Frank.  As we entered the MIT campus, I felt excited and nervous. The day started with a mini reunion with breakfast and Mr. Walsh introduced me to his friends from MIT. After breakfast we all went into the auditorium to view a video that summarized MIT’s role in the Apollo program. After the video, the Aero Astro department head gave opening remarks and introduced Charles Bolden (former NASA administrator and astronaut) who then talked about the topics of discussion for the day. Following Bolden’s keynote, there was a brief slideshow to remember MIT professor Doctor Draper.

     The first panel of the day, the “Engineering Apollo” panel included Apollo astronauts Walter Cunningham and Charlie Duke , along with MIT engineers who worked on the Apollo program. Then there was a brief showcase of all the astronauts in attendance that had MIT roots. The  keynote on “Moon and Mars: What remains to be discovered” held by Maria Zuber (MIT vice president of research) was extremely engaging and thought provoking. After the  lunch break, there was a panel called “Inventing The Future” featuring MIT professors and researchers.

Charles Bolden and me

Following that, was a panel featuring industry leaders such as the CEO of Blue Origin, Deputy director of JPL, CTO of Lockheed Martin and other industry leaders. There was then a lightning round of different MIT student talks. To end the day, there was a keynote “exploring the solar system” by Thomas Zurbuchen – Associate administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate. The closing remarks were held  by Dava Newman – AeroAstro Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, former NASA deputy administrator.
My day at the 50/50 MIT conference was amazing and a once in a lifetime experience.  I made strong personal connections that will last and had excellent conversations with General Charles Bolden and Astronaut Mike Fincke .  Because of these connections, I was recently invited by Mr. William Litant, the Director of Communications for MIT Aero Astro Department  for a personal tour of MIT. I look forward to writing another blog post after I have that experience.

Selfie with Mike Fincke and Frank Walsh