NASA engineer

Paul W. Johnson, NASA aerospace engineer, during a presentation to LCHS aerospace engineering students, fires up a rocket engine. The demonstration followed his discussion about NASA, the history of air travel and other related topics.

While giving a presentation to Lincoln County High School aerospace engineering students, Paul W. Johnson, aerospace engineer, not only taught the youths 50 different facts in one hour, but prompted students to ask themselves what they will do in order to accomplish their dreams.

Johnson works for NASA at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., in quality control and safety. While projecting a map on a screen, he pointed out that numerous NASA Centers and Satellite Centers are located throughout the United States.

“NASA turned 60 in October,” he said.

When he was younger, Johnson had six dreams: becoming a mechanical engineer, working at NASA, flying jets in the Navy, getting married, having a family and becoming an astronaut. He accomplished five, and though he didn’t become an astronaut, these days he performs in air shows.

In addition to those achievements, he was a diplomat living in Moscow for two years.

These goals he accomplished by staying focused in college and beyond, he said.

Johnson advises students to stay focused on their goals and make sure that what they’re hearing or reading is a fact, not fiction.

“What do you need to do to make your dream happen?” Johnson asked the 10th through 12th grade students in Marty LeBlanc’s class. Several students in the engineering class expressed their interest in the fields of aerospace, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering.

He encouraged the students to stay in school and get a college degree. For those counting on a sports scholarship, he asks, “What’s your backup plan?”, noting that out of the millions of athletes who get scholarships, very few athletes make it onto the professional field.

“The SLS is a new rocket we’re building,” he said, pointing to one of three rockets on the screen. Starting with Joseph and Etienne De Montgolfier of France in 1783, and walking through the history of flight to present time, he lead into three demonstrations following a discussion of Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion.

“The laws work, guys,” he explained. Most impressive of the three was the firing of a small, but real rocket engine.

In order to make dreams come true, he encouraged students to remember S.O.O.T., an acronym for Stay Out Of Trouble. These days, companies do background checks and look at the character of potential employees by viewing social postings online, he pointed out. 

“Be smart – don’t do anything stupid,” he admonished. “Don’t drink or do drugs – it will ruin you.”

When talking about a slide of the Space Station, he explained that it travels around the earth every 90 minutes and that it travels 17,500 mph. Johnson encouraged the kids to spend time looking at facts on www.nasa.gov, instead of wasting time on their cell phones. Something he asked students to remember as related to the NASA acronym is, “‘Never Accept Stupidity as an Answer” – “Do your homework,” he said.

Johnson said he has had some awesome experiences in his life because he followed through on his dreams.

“Today, you learned 50 different things in one hour … There are 365 days in a year; you can learn 109,500 new things per year,” he said. “Set your goal, stay focused and your dream will come true.”

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