NASA engineer, area native helps open national exhibit

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By Chris McCarthy

Publisher/Editor

File Keith Robinson in the “Local Boy Does Good” category.

The 1981 Emma Samson graduate and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) industrial engineer was the featured speaker on May 21 at the grand opening of the Gadsden Public Library’s “Visions of the Universe: Four Centuries of Discovery” national touring exhibit. 

Among the items at the exhibit are lunar rock and meteor samples from the Johnson Space Center in Houston and an astronomy display. The GPL is one of only nine public libraries across the United States to host the exhibit. 

GPL adult services director Craig Scott noted that the moon rocks had arrived at 6:30 a.m. last Monday morning. 

“Tammy Brooks is the one that got this all started, but it’s been my baby for the past few months. We’re honored to have Keith Robinson be here with us today. He’s a local guy, for sure. For Gadsden to host something like this is big time.” 

Robinson, who graduated from Auburn University in 1986, is the review manager of the Independent Program Assessment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. He has worked on such NASA projects such as the Space Shuttle, Space Lab, the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station. 

“It sure is a pleasure to come home,” said Robinson, who also is an alumnus of Mitchell Elementary School. “My dad worked 35 years at Republic Steel, so I was raised right by the mill. I have wonderful memories of growing up in this town, and I still have a lot of friends here. I’ve always loved this town and I had a great time growing up here. “According to a press release from the American Library Public Programs Office, the aim of the exhibit is “to celebrate astronomy and its contributions to society and culture.”

Robinson spoke at length about north Alabama’s role in space exploration. 

“The whole environment [in Huntsville] is really amazing in terms of the all the federal dollars and the talent in engineering, research and technology. I’m real proud to have been a small part of it. I’ve blinked and 26 years have rolled by, but on the way here today I rode in the car with a rock from the moon that’s 3.8 billion years old, so maybe 50 [years old] is not that bad!”

“This exhibit is part of making our library an exciting place for Gadsden and all of Etowah County,” said GPL director Amanda Jackson. “We’re constantly striving to bring new experiences to the community, so this is a huge deal, especially for our younger generations. Exhibits like this one gives them the opportunity to enjoy and explore different aspects of culture and history and science. We have a lot of support within the community.”  

GPL lunar exhibit – page 2A

Robinson said that the four major areas of emphasis for NASA are science, space technology, human exploration, and operations and aeronautic research.

“As technology has exploded, so has the responsibilities of the Marshall Center,” said Robinson. “NASA just turned 50 a few years ago, so she’s still quite a young lady. In that short amount of time, it’s really incredible the strides that have been made. “[The Apollo 11 mission to moon in 1969] is probably man’s greatest technical achievement. Having spent almost 30 years in the agency, it still boggles my mind that they did what they did with 1960s technology.”

Due to the recent economic downturn and resulting federal budget cuts, Robinson said that NASA would rely upon the commercial space sector. 

“We’re less than a penny of a federal tax dollar that you pay. We respect the fact that it is your money and the nation’s money, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we make the most of the money we’re given to work with,” he said.  “Right now we’re supporting private companies and giving them facilities and any of our expertise to try to help them step us and develop low-earth orbit options for us.”

In 2002 Robinson received NASA’s Silver Snoopy award, which recognizes special achievements in the field of human safety and/ or mission success in space.

“I really think it’s important to try to that push the envelope,” he said. “When we do that, good things happen. [Having] smart people working on tough problems always yields an exciting future. Let’s promise each other one thing – that we’ll put as much effort into creating an exciting future as we do in celebrating the past.” 

For more information about the exhibit, call the Gadsden Public Library at 256-549-4699 or visit www.gadsdenlibrary.org or www.ala.org/visionsoftheuniverse. 

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