Richard Tucker slipped into a G-suit and placed a helmet over his head. He checked to make sure that he had an oxygen mask, flashlight and signal devices with him.
It was Tucker's first time in the suit, which pilots wear to handle the gravitational forces produced when they are maneuvering jets.
But Tucker is no pilot. He is a 17-year-old Chopticon High School senior toying with the idea of going into the military.
He got a chance recently to see--and feel--what it is like to work for at least one branch of the military. "It was pretty cool," he said. "I could do this for a living."
Along with 10 other St. Mary's County students, Tucker toured the Patuxent River Naval Air Station as part of NASA's Technology Transfer Mentor Program, sponsored by NASA and local businesses. About a dozen other students chosen nationwide joined them for a week in Washington, meeting senior managers in government and business who work in science, engineering, technology and management.
Other field trips took the students to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the Goddard Space Flight Center. They learned about DNA fingerprinting, toured the Hubble Space Telescope Control Center and entered numerous labs.
The program was intended to show the students how technology influences the nation's economic and social development, organizers said. And if it prompted interest in careers in the military or technology fields, that was fine, too, they said.
"It looks to me like we have future test pilots, future astronauts, future biology majors. . . . This is what our future is all about," St. Mary's Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large) said in remarks to students and local dignitaries before they began their day at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Scott Jaster, a senior at Great Mills High School, said he is interested in space technology.
"I want to see what future jobs I might be able to have," he said while touring the test pilot school with Lt. Cmdr. Eric Mitchell, who told the group that he had spent the morning dropping bombs--practice bombs, of course.
John Banowetz, a Chopticon High School senior, said he is interested in electrical engineering and NASA.
"The fact that they can go to all those places in space so accurately--I can't imagine how they calculate all that stuff," Banowetz said. His class schedule has been filled with courses such as physics and advanced placement biology and calculus.
Teenagers like Jaster and Banowetz can be hard to find.
"It's a continuous challenge," said Timothy S. Smith, executive director of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. "You have an aging work force so you want to bring young people in.
"We need a work force of high-skilled individuals," Smith added. "I think it's important for us as a country to be on the technological edge."
CAPTION: Richard Tucker, a student from Chopticon High School, gets help from Lt. Cmdr. Eric Mitchell putting on flight gear at the test pilot school at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.