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Gravity Assist

OVER THE MOON Jack Davis sent a letter to NASA. He was thrilled when he got a personal reply. EMILY BABCOCK

When Jack Davis, 9, looks up at the night sky, he doesn’t see just stars. He sees his future. The fourth grader lives in New Jersey. He has a deep interest in outer space. Jack has fueled that interest by watching a steady stream of science-fiction movies.

In July, Jack heard that NASA was looking for a new planetary protection officer. He decided that he was the right person for the job. The officer works to prevent astronauts from accidentally bringing microscopic alien life-forms back to Earth. The officer also makes sure astronauts do not take Earth-based germs with them into space.

Jack wrote a letter to NASA. He noted his qualifications for the job. “My sister says I am an alien,” Jack wrote. He signed the letter “Jack Davis, Guardian of the Galaxy.”

A Rapid Response

Jack got a letter from James L. Green. Green works at NASA. “We are always looking for bright future scientists and engineers to help us,” he wrote. “I hope you will study hard and do well in school. We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days!”


Jack told TFK he was “shocked” when Green’s response arrived. “I shouted, ‘I got a letter from NASA!’”

Green calls his response a “gravity assist.” A spacecraft can use the gravity of a planet or moon for a boost in a new direction. Likewise, Green hopes that by answering letters from kids he can help influence their path in life. “If I can provide that first gravity assist that gets them going, then we’ve got more kids coming our way and wanting to work with us,” he says.

Hard at Work

Jack won’t be working at NASA yet. For now, he has lined up another job that involves space. Jack has been named kid science adviser at the new planetarium at Liberty Science Center (LSC). It is in New Jersey.

Paul Hoffman is LSC’s president. He heard about Jack’s letter to NASA. Hoffman posted a video invitation to Jack on YouTube. “You can work right here,” Hoffman said. Jack will make sure planetarium exhibits are fun for kids.

Jack says he already knows what he wants to see at LSC: “More hands-on stuff. Kids like to touch things.”