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A NASA Engineer Tells 6-Year-Old Nephew To Aim High

Jan 24, 2020
Originally published on January 24, 2020 9:24 am

At six years old, Jerry Morrison is already shooting for the stars.

"I want to live on another planet," Jerry told his uncle, Joey Jefferson, at StoryCorps in November. "There's so much sights to see: nebulas, hot Jupiters and supernova remnants. They look so beautiful."

Jefferson, 29, also fell in love with space at an early age. It started with a wind-up space shuttle toy his mother gave him when he was a kid. Today he's a mission operations engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, where he commanded the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn.

Jefferson, who lives in California, and Jerry, who lives in Florida, meet up a few times a year, and their conversations always revolve around their shared love for space.

"What kind of planet would you live on?" Jerry asked his uncle at StoryCorps.

"Of course everybody's going to say Mars, right? Are you gonna say Mars?" Jefferson replied.

No, Jerry wants to live much farther from Mars: on an exoplanet (a planet beyond of the solar system) called Kepler-452b. NASA announced its discovery of the Earth-like planet in 2015.

"We estimate to be trillions of galaxies out there," Jefferson told Jerry. "There's a lot of stars and a lot of exoplanets that we got to find, and so we need people like you to keep doing what you're doing."

Jefferson wants his nephew to not only hold on to his curiosity but also share what he learns with others. And Jerry has already gotten the chance to do that. As a kindergartner last year, he taught a lesson to the fifth graders in his school about the planets of the solar system.

"It was a big opportunity for me," Jerry said. "It was awesome."

Jerry said he learns about space from his uncle. "I learned from you a lot, like more than I could imagine," Jerry said.

"You're learning so much by yourself, too, that you're teaching me as well," Jefferson said. "And that's really cool. The more you learn, the more we realize the little things in life we take for granted are the very things that make life possible. So when I look up in the stars, I think about that."

His hope for Jerry is that he will do and continue to learn about the things that he loves most. "You can do whatever you want, but in the future, I think you're going to go to Kepler-452b."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And it's time for StoryCorps on this Friday. Six-year-old Jerry Morrison is obsessed with outer space. So of course his favorite person to talk to is his uncle, Joey Jefferson, a mission operations engineer at NASA. When they get together, their conversations always revolve around one thing.

JOEY JEFFERSON: Why do you like space so much?

JERRY MORRISON: There's so much sights to see - nebulas, hot Jupiters and supernova remnants.

JEFFERSON: Yeah.

MORRISON: They look so beautiful.

JEFFERSON: You know how I fell in love with space? My mom gave me a really cool space shuttle. You would wind it back, and then...

MORRISON: Oh, I have that.

JEFFERSON: You have that? So I remember playing with that all the time. And I wanted to become a pilot. I used to fly planes when I was 17 years old. And then after that, I started commanding spacecraft in NASA.

MORRISON: Have you ever been to space?

JEFFERSON: I have not, but it's a dream of mine.

MORRISON: I want to live on another planet.

JEFFERSON: Another planet?

MORRISON: Like, what kind of planet would you live in?

JEFFERSON: Of course everybody's going to say Mars, right? Are you going to say Mars?

MORRISON: No. Kepler-452b.

JEFFERSON: Oh, yeah. So Kepler-452b is your favorite planet. You know what we call those?

MORRISON: Exoplanets.

JEFFERSON: And there's actually, we estimate, to be trillions of galaxies out there. So there's a lot of stars and a lot of exoplanets that we got to find. And so we need people like you to keep doing what you're doing. And it's one thing to get to this place where you know all this knowledge, but it's another thing to teach a knowledge.

MORRISON: Yeah.

JEFFERSON: So you were in kindergarten and you taught the fifth graders, right?

MORRISON: Yeah.

JEFFERSON: How did you like that?

MORRISON: It was a big opportunity for me. I, like, taught all the planets. It was awesome.

JEFFERSON: (Laughter) How do you feel when we visit each other and we get to talk about space?

MORRISON: It feels good. I learn from you a lot, like, more than I could imagine.

JEFFERSON: You're my favorite person to talk about space to, you know that?

MORRISON: Yeah.

JEFFERSON: And you're learning so much by yourself, too, that you're teaching me as well...

MORRISON: (Laughter).

JEFFERSON: ...And that's really cool. The more you learn, the more we realize the little things in life we take for granted are the very things that make life possible. So when I look up in the stars, I think about that.

MORRISON: That is pretty cool.

JEFFERSON: My hope is that you are always going to be doing and learning about the things that you love the most. You can do whatever you want. But in the future, I think you're going to go to Kepler-452b.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "LAHAINA")

GREENE: Oh, StoryCorps, I love you. That's Joey Jefferson and his nephew Jerry Morrison dreaming of the stars at StoryCorps here in Los Angeles. That conversation is going to be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.