Space Shuttle Carries Astronaut With Bowie Ties

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009

Orbiting the Earth last week, the space shuttle Discovery carried seven astronauts, two power-generating solar array wings and this: a T-shirt from Bowie High School.

Astronaut Richard R. Arnold II, who graduated from the school in 1981, took the T-shirt with him when the shuttle blasted off last Sunday. Students at the school have been following closely as he and the rest of the crew install the solar wings on the international space station.

"The kids who are really tracking it get the sense that they can do it, too," said Art Colton, a Bowie High math teacher who met Arnold in Houston while applying to a NASA program for teachers. "It's extremely important for someone like Ricky Arnold to be in space."

The 45-year-old astronaut last lived in Maryland in 1993, when he taught science at John Hanson Middle School in Waldorf. He grew up in Bowie, pumping gas and changing oil at his family's Sunoco station, on Stonybrook Drive.

Arnold lives in Houston with his wife, Eloise, and two daughters, ages 11 and 13. He has taught math and science to middle school and high school students for about 10 years, mostly overseas, his father said.

Arnold's father said his son has called twice from space to say that "he's having a great time."

When Arnold applied to NASA's teacher-astronaut program in 2003, he told his parents that there was no reason to worry, his father said. He told them that there were thousands of applicants and that he "just thought it would be interesting" to apply, his father said.

But the next year, Arnold won one of three slots.

The elder Arnold said he didn't know until a recent television interview that his son's interest in space travel dates to the fifth grade, when the family traveled to Florida to watch an Apollo launch.

"I heard on TV that he never forgot that," Arnold, 72, said. "You know how kids are -- they never tell you anything. . . . It wasn't a thing of him saying, 'When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.' It was always, 'I want to be a third baseman for the Orioles.' "

Richard Arnold said he and his wife, Nancy, will return to Florida to watch the shuttle's return, which is scheduled for Saturday.

"I've never seen anyone as excited about going to work each day as he is," he said of his son.

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