"Station, this is Houston, are you ready for the event?"
"Houston, this is Station, we are ready for the event." – Commander Victor Glover
"Pittsburgh Steelers, this is Mission Control Houston, please call Station for a voice check."
"Houston, this is Pittsburgh Steelers, we are ready for the event." – Josh Dobbs
If that's not how your Friday morning started, with a welcome from NASA Mission Control Houston to the International Space Station and then to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, then you missed out on a unique, one-of-a-kind experience that Steelers quarterback Josh Dobbs brought not just to Steelers fans, but people all over the world.
Dobbs, who graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in aerospace engineering, joined NASA astronauts, and former college football players, Commander Victor Glover and Colonel Michael Hopkins, as well as Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese aeronautical engineer and JAXA astronaut, for a call from the International Space Station (ISS) that was broadcast on NASA's Facebook Live channel as well as via Zoom for school students.
The three crew members, live from the ISS, tossed a football while sharing stories with Dobbs and taking questions from the students to promote the importance of STEM education.
"It's a little harder than you think," said Commander Glover of tossing the football around. "Not having gravity makes it a little tougher to throw a nice spiral at your intended target."
While you get the feeling the group could have talked football for a long time, the call was about a lot more. It was sharing the importance of engineering and STEM education with students, many from the Pittsburgh area, but through the Facebook Live broadcast opened it up to a world-wide audience, with people checking in from Argentine, Australia, Cambodia, France, Kenya and the Philippines in the comments.
"You guys are living out all of our childhood dreams right now," Dobbs told the crew, before asking the question everyone wanted to know.
How is it going in space?
"Welcome to the Steelers organization and all of the fans," said Commander Glover. "We've been up here as Crew 1 for just over 60 days and it's going great so far. We've got a family up here. There is a crew of seven of us and it's great to be up here, a fellowship. We think about folks on Earth a lot of the time and how things are going down there."
Dobbs got to live out his dream of asking the astronauts questions of his own, before getting to the students questions. He asked about how they got interested in engineering, their advice to students, and asked Commander Glover what it is like being on the ISS, after Glover made history becoming the first African American astronaut to begin a six-month stint on the orbiting lab.
"This is my first mission about the ISS," said Commander Glover. "It's already exceeded my expectations. Every single day has been a learning experience. Looking out the Cupola window at the Earth has been awe inspiring."
It was then on to the kid's questions, from how to train to be an astronaut, to questions about water engineering specialists, and then the final question which was directed at Glover.
Have you ever seen a planet?
"I've looked up into the sky with my daughters through our telescope," said Commander Glover. "I gaze out at the stars often. Being up here it's no different, except to be a little further from Earth I find that although the stars are beautiful and seeing sunrises and sunsets are amazing, I am so captivated by the Earth. I read a letter written by another astronaut that we have hanging up here. He said if he was born in space, he would want to visit the Earth much more than he would want to visit space. That really impacted me. Our earth, our home, is beautiful. For everything I have every seen through a telescope, or gazing up into the night sky, it pales in comparison to that beautiful blue marble that is hanging out right next to us."
The smile on Dobbs face as the call began to end was representative of his love for all things NASA. Dobbs completed externship programs with global aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and NASA in the offseason, continuing a passion that has been ongoing.
"The last couple offseasons I have been able to do a lot of work with NASA, even last year getting down there and doing an internship with them," said Dobbs. "I got to go down and see the first Dragon launch, the first launch from U.S. soil this past spring. Even congratulate the crew of astronauts on their launch a couple of months ago. It's been a surreal year for me being able to work with NASA."
As part of his internship at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Dobbs was at the SpaceX launch that sent a crew to the International Space Station in May.
"Being able to work with engineers at NASA was eye-opening," said Dobbs. "I have had the opportunity in the engineering world or through space camp opportunities to visit NASA, but that was my first opportunity to get down to Kennedy Space Station since I was younger. Working with the astronauts as they were preparing for the SpaceX launch, but more as they were gearing up for this program, which is the next step for NASA and space exploration, was incredible. I was able to learn a lot daily from each engineer I interacted with and then to have that experience and go down and be a part of the launch and see the actual launch, it really puts everything into perspective. When you are at the Space Center and you are seeing all of the buildings, the launch pads, it's really cool and fascinating. Then to see how the whole operation and everything comes together, it really puts it into perspective.
"The biggest perspective I learned is there are so many moving parts. At the Kennedy Space Center, they focus mainly on the flight structure, so mainly the launch pad and the mobile launcher which harness the rocket. Then parts of the rocket, especially in the NASA side, coming from different parts of the country, NASA centers. As they're testing different stages of the rocket, putting together the capsule, doing various tests. To see how big the team of engineers that is working on this project is, and how spread out they are not only in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center, but across the country, they all have one goal in mind…for the arduous mission to return to the Moon and then put the next man and woman on the Moon and put humans on Mars. To see the goal they have, and the daily steps they take to achieve that goal, it shows no matter how big the goals you set, it's all in the teamwork, it's all in the spirit. It's all in the culture that is built to harness the goals.
"It put in perspective because you speak on football goals, and you speak on life goals. You say I want to be a high achiever. I want to set high goals, and you go out and attain them and you go down to NASA and they are daily pushing to create the impossible. To defy laws of gravity putting people in space. To take the first humans to Mars. That is their goals. You talk about high goals. They're showing how to make those goals tangible through the work ethic, through the communication, through the teamwork, team spirit, having a plan, each part of the team coming together and making that goal come alive. It's wonderful to see, to be around.
"With my passion for aviation and space, I love being down there and being around that spirit and energy and learning from the most world-renowned engineers. I am excited to see what the future holds for the space world."