‘Stars’ celebrates lives, dreams of those who set sights on space

Event preview

“Forged in the Stars”

Friday, April 11, 7 p.m.

Ferst Center for the Arts, Georgia Tech

349 Ferst Drive

Atlanta, Ga. 30332

Tickets: $20 for adults, $10 for Georgia Tech students

Online: www.ferstcenter.org

By phone: 404-894-9600

Direct from Georgia Tech AIAA: http://gtaiaa.wordpress.com/forged-in-the-stars/

They looked to the stars and dreamed: a Native American who eyed the moon with wonder; a naval aviator whose wings didn’t take him as high as he wanted to go; and a schoolteacher who promised to share with others her lessons learned in space.

J.C. High Eagle became an engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, helping put a man on the moon. Neil Armstrong, that first man on the moon, was the aviator who felt the pull of the stratosphere. The teacher? Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire educator killed in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Their lives are the focus of “Forged in the Stars,” a one-man show 7 p.m. Friday at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech. Renowned storyteller Jay O’Callahan, who wrote the show, will perform.

O’Callahan, who interviewed “lots of astronauts” and others involved in space exploration, said the show is about dreams — individual and collective. Engineers, he discovered, can be a dreamy bunch.

“They love their work,” said O’Callahan, whose storytelling talents won a lifetime award from the National Endowment for the Arts. “This is a story about their dreams, about competent, smart people.”

The show, highlighting NASA’s Apollo and Shuttle programs, is a precursor to a big birthday three years away: the 100-year anniversary of aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech. The university’s student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics is presenting “Forged in the Stars.”

The performance will underscore Tech’s growing role in space exploration, said Wilton Rooks, a semi-retired engineer who worked in NASA’s propulsion research. An Atlanta resident, he’s a Tech graduate.

“A lot has happened in AE (aeronautical engineering) since 1917,” said Rooks, who helped bring O’Callahan to Tech.

The foundation for what today is Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering was laid 97 years ago, when the U.S. Army asked the university to instruct officers in the mysteries of a new technology — manned flight. Thirteen years later, in 1930, Tech’s still-young aeronautics program got funding that secured its future: a grant from the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation.

Since then, Rooks said, Tech’s program has taken wing. Today, it graduates 12 percent of the nation’s aerospace engineers. Tech also has graduated 14 U.S. astronauts — more than any other nonmilitary university.

“Our class was a couple of dozen engineers,” said Rooks, who got undergraduate and graduate degrees from Tech in the 1960s. “Now, 1,600 students are in (the department).”