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Astronaut always dreamed big

October 14, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - Growing up in a poor family in the "hills and hollows" of Bedford, Ind., astronaut Charles D. Walker remembered eating ketchup sandwiches and bean soup at his boyhood home.

But it didn't affect his desire to dream big.

Walker remembered watching Walt Disney television shows about space exploration and from that point on, he knew that is what he wanted to do with his life.

Walker credited part of his success in space exploration with public school teachers who supported him in his interest in space.

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Walker was able to get good grades through school, which earned him scholarships for entrance to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

"I just focused," Walker told members of First in Your Family, a new Jefferson County scholarship organization that is designed for kids who are the first people in their family to go to college.

Walker studied aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Purdue.

He made his childhood dreams come true when he participated in three space shuttle missions between 1984 and 1985.

The country's first commercial industry-sponsored astronaut, Walker operated equipment designed by McDonnell Douglas to produce medicine in space. Producing pharmaceutical products without gravity allows the medicine to be produced in pure forms that reduce side effects in patients, among other benefits, Walker told the gathering at the Shepherdstown Men's Club.

Climbing aboard a 110-foot-tall spaceship and rocketing off into space is still an experience that leaves Walker struggling to explain.

"I'm still to this day amazed I was able to be a part of space exploration," said Walker, who was the first person in his family to graduate from college.

Walker was the inspirational speaker for a group of students who are beginning to dream about what their futures will be.

Dee Taylor of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said she was offering academic counseling to students in the area when she realized that many students did not have access to information about college or did not know what steps to follow to obtain it.

That is when Taylor and her husband, Tom, decided to start the First in Your Family college scholarship program.

Students are identified for the scholarship program in eighth grade, and to be eligible for scholarship money as they approach college, they must maintain a "B" average, participate in extracurricular activities and complete regular community service, among other requirements, Dee Taylor said.

On Sunday, the First in Your Family organizers doled out their first scholarship money. Four 10th-grade students at Jefferson High School - Danielle Drash, Ashly Poling, Melissa Reed and Jessica Reid - each received $1,000 scholarships to be applied toward the cost of their college education.

Poling wants to become a broadcast journalist, and members of First in Your Family have taken her to Fox News and CNN offices to meet reporters and learn about the news-gathering process.

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