Down-to-earth message of support for today’s youth Former astronaut Dunbar says kids need inspiration, care to succeed By MARK KLAAS

The former astronaut finds herself on a different mission these days.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2008 12:00am
  • News

Dr. Bonnie Dunbar

The former astronaut finds herself on a different mission these days.

Dr. Bonnie Dunbar no longer orbits the Earth aboard a NASA Space Shuttle, but follows an important course today as community leader and mentor to deserving youth.

“The mission is so critical right now as we look at the future of our nation,” said Dunbar, a veteran of five space missions aboard four different shuttles. She returned to her native Washington three years ago to lead the Museum of Flight as president and CEO.

“It doesn’t matter if they are not all going to be scientists, engineers and astronauts,” she said. “What matters is we help shape them for the future and give them an inspiration, a goal, an opportunity and a chance at success.”

Dunbar, as the keynote speaker at the Federal Way & Auburn Boys and Girls Club and EX3 Teen Center’s annual “Breakfast for Kids” fundraiser at Emerald Downs, expressed the importance of supporting youth.

Brock Huard, former Seattle Seahawk and University of Washington quarterback, delivered a similar message as guest speaker.

More than 400 community members attended Tuesday’s event, raising a record $55,000. Proceeds will aid student scholarships as well as educational, cultural and sports programs that benefit more than 3,500 youths in South King County.

In Dunbar’s view, kids need considerable care and guidance to succeed in today’s challenging world. Dunbar – as a girl growing up in a large family on a cattle ranch in the rural community of Outlook – received a strong foundation that launched a distinguished career.

“I learned very early on that it’s not what you have in terms of material wealth that makes a difference in your life,” Dunbar said. “It’s the people who help inspire you, who believe in you as you come forward.

“I had an experience that many of our youth I think today don’t have.”

From an early age, Dunbar had a dream to build spaceships and explore the stars. That dream eventually became a reality.

She went on earn bachelor and master’s degrees in ceramic engineering from the University of Washington and a doctorate in mechanical/biomedical engineering from the University of Houston.

She held research and engineering positions with The Boeing Co., Harwell Laboratories and Rockwell International until 1978, when she joined NASA as a flight controller. Two years later, in 1980, she was selected as a NASA mission specialist astronaut.

Dunbar has logged 1,208 hours – more than 50 days – in orbit aboard the shuttles Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia and Endeavour.

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