Andrew Donovan is back, but hasn’t come back down to Earth

(WSYR-TV) — I’m back in Syracuse from Florida, but I haven’t come back down to Earth.

That’s my punny way of saying how proud I will forever be to have covered Jeanette Epps’ launch into space.

I’ll admit it. I teared up as I watched engines ignite underneath the SpaceX rocket with a Syracuse native aboard the Dragon Endeavor capsule. It equally made me anxious knowing that human beings sit atop that much firepower.

It looked like the biggest firework that never dissipated followed by the sound of sonic booms rattling against NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building.

The waterworks continued as soon as I heard Epps give Syracuse a shout-out just minutes later. “I’m in a New York State of mind,” she said from beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

Because I was among the few Central New Yorkers to witness the launch, I felt the magnitude of the responsibility to bring our viewers along for the ride. That was my lofty assignment.

It’s a personal privilege to witness NASA’s scientific phenomenon up close, but my pride is founded in sharing the experience with Central New Yorkers, giving them a front-row seat to a local story that doesn’t come around every day.

It’s the story of an accomplished life, which began with the little girl who grew up on Syracuse’s South Side. That girl, guided by her mother’s encouragement, grew up to graduate from Corcoran High School and Le Moyne College.

In an interview, Epps told me mathematics and science classes weren’t easy for her. Whether it was natural, inspired by her parents, or both, her natural gift was her work ethic.

When Epps got to choose what she’d bring to space, a photo of her late mother was the easy winner.

STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math) is becoming a household word. Add “a” for art, Syracuse is just a few years away from hosting a STEAM school for all of Onondaga County. Micron’s influence over Central New York is already taking STEM education to the next level.

But STEM isn’t new. The title is about as old as I am. The topic is as old as humanity is.

STEM isn’t the only four-letter acronym to represent the field. NASA has been on the leading edge of scientific advancements since the agency was established when the National Aeronautics and Space Act was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958.

NASA has been highlighting STEM for years, working with schools and students to foster the next generation of scientists. They were doing STEM before it was “cool.”

I grew up flying to Orlando for trips to the Walt Disney World Resort. If you’re about to take your family there, might I suggest adding a quick hour’s ride to the east to visit the Kennedy Space Center?

You’ll be inspired by how the Visitors Complex celebrates space and science. Seeing the real Space Shuttle Atlantis, the very one SU alum Eileen Collins used, makes you “cry a little, but you feel a little prouder and taller,” as the museum’s chief operating officer told me.

I can’t thank the team at NASA and the Kennedy Space Center enough for their hospitality. Sending a vehicle with humans into space is among the hardest jobs (it is rocket science), yet they were great partners in allowing us to cover one of Syracuse’s own. NASA’s team knew why we were there, and helped us accomplish what we were looking for.

I’m so happy with all the stories we brought home. We met the professor who taught Epps chemistry and a student studying to follow in her footsteps. From Gia Purchiaroni to Karin Botto the people impacted by Epps are numerous.

NewsChannel 9 was the only local news organization to send a crew to Florida. NewsChannel 9 was the only local television station to air the launch live.

The trip wasn’t possible without the support of my NewsChannel 9 Family. “Team 9” we sometimes call ourselves. I relied on coworkers to hold down the fort, help get my work on the air, and pay the travel bills.

It’s important to remember that Jeanette’s lift-off isn’t the end of a journey. It’s the beginning of six months of a grueling lifestyle and hard work. NewsChannel 9 is committed to following every step.

We hope the continued attention on Epps’ legacy benefits Corcoran High School, Le Moyne College and other institutions as it magnifies their STEM curriculums and strategies. We hope they capitalize on the opportunity.

The story of Jeanette Epps should be a cause of celebration for all Central New Yorkers. One of our own achieved her dreams, getting to the highest of heights, doing so with credit to her upbringing, parents, teachers and work ethic.

NewsChannel 9’s goal was to include Central New Yorkers in that celebration, remind people how special her story is, and inspire the next generation with a “you can too” attitude.

Jeanette’s already made her hometown so proud. We can return the favor by using her lift-off to lift up others. 

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