Opinion Orlando: NASA & Central Florida: What Could Have Been or What Could Still Be?

July 20, 2011 | By | 45 Replies More

The Orlando Blog : NASA 50 Years : Orlando Opinion : Thomas HoRecently, I was among the fortunate 151 “tweeps” selected by NASA to witness its historic final launch of the Space Shuttle program: STS-135 Atlantis. In the vernacular of Twitter, the social media service, this event is called a “Tweetup” and up to now, there have been over twenty such events (don’t worry, there will be more in the future although the Space Shuttle program is over) sponsored by NASA. Although I’ve been blogging about my NASA TweetUp experience, many of my fellow tweeps have done a much better job of conveying the excitement and wonder of the experience. As a matter of fact, it was actually a mixed experience for me personally and I’ve been struggling to understand why?

In the run-up to the actual event, we got acquainted with each other via a (closed) Facebook group as well as video introductions which we shared. As I learned more about my fellow participants, it became clear to me how passionate and knowledgeable some of them were about NASA and space so I expressed that sentiment in my first post. As a first-hand observer of NASA since its early days during Projects Mercury through Apollo, I had been keenly aware of NASA, but as my interest has waned during the last ten years or so, I realized how little I had kept up! I’ll have more to say about this point in a subsequent post in “Scratch where it itches” which is my own blog. Seeing how the space program had transformed the lives of some, I wonder why it hasn’t transformed the lives of more!

Therefore, I offer this post NOT as a criticism, but as an observation especially since I am very new to central Florida after arriving only a year ago. During that time, I have observed much and I especially have many questions about education and economic development in central Florida. Those two topics have been foremost among many interests during my 35-year academic career in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Singapore. I bring these up because I am wondering why the space program hasn’t had a greater impact in differentiating central Florida…has Mickey Mouse gotten too much attention?

I’ve spent most of my adult life in Indiana and especially during the last 15 years in central Indiana and Indianapolis, I have witnessed a cultural and economic renaissance which has resulted in a robust technical community in a “seed geography” for the emerging Internet marketing industry which has only gotten stronger in recent years. This is notable because it has happened with no overt economic development effort by local government. I am aware that central Florida is a seed geography for the software simulation industry and I’m guessing that the proximity of the Space Coast has had some positive impact on its growth, but I do wonder why the local software industry isn’t stronger. Recognizing that NASA’s software development is concentrated at other NASA locations, I do still wonder why NASA core competencies such as project management haven’t “trickled down” into the local economy to a greater extent.

Irrespective of the economic development impact from the proximity of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, I can’t help but wonder why Florida and central Florida in particular aren’t more of a hotbed of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as well as educational innovation in general. I would have expected that growing up with the space program in one’s “backyard” could have fostered much more emphasis on STEM education! With respect to educational innovation, I have observed little difference between my 15-year old daughter’s education and mine (I am 47 years OLDER than she is!) except that her teachers don’t use chalk on blackboards any longer. I admit to being somewhat facetious because what plagues us is a widespread dilemma in American K-12 education as reformers argue about standardized testing while so little innovation is evident. At least, central Florida is the home of Florida Virtual School! I am also encouraged that the Tallahassee-based Foundation for Exellence in Education has established its Digital Learning Council. Nevertheless, Florida and central Florida in particular SHOULD be way ahead of the rest of the country by now after witnessing NASA explore space from its own backyard for the last 50 years! Why haven’t I found more teachers like Vicki Davis here in central Florida?

So, why isn’t this so? I don’t know the answers, but I just wanted to ask these questions. ENLIGHTEN ME (and your fellow citizens)!


Editors Comment: Dr. Thomas Ho is an Orlando resident and given this is his first post on The Orlando Blog, we felt it wise to provide a link to his Resume for your review …!

Thomas Ho
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Comments (45)

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  1. Thomas Ho says:

    Here’s a review of a book which makes the case for why we need to “reboot” education:


    It will ‘blow your mind’!

  2. Scotty says:

    Very well written post and very engaging comment thread. Thanks Dr. Ho!

  3. Thomas Ho says:

    Here’s an opportunity to EXPERIENCE FIRST-HAND what many dedicated teachers are ALREADY doing with technology for teaching & learning:


    is a FREE online conference which started today & goes through the weekend.

    Notice how the conference is using technology for teacher professional development via LIVE broadcast as well as archived distribution via iTunes later.

  4. Paul Carlisle says:

    Not sure what to say about the two in-depth posts I just read here on the website. First the in-depth article by Kevin Gustafson on Gerrymandering and now this reflection on NASA with ties to education I’d really not considered and few talk about.

    My thanks to you Thomas Ho for an extremely well done article. I read in a few of your comments about your personal blogs and will make efforts to check them out occasionally. We have a solid 10-15 sites we read regularly, this is one as we appreciate the family aspect of content. This new direction with articles such as this are even more food for my brain.

    I’m certain we will chat in the future about another topic or two. Take care.

  5. Dennis Luther says:


    Thank you again for such a well presented report that thoroughly lays out the facts. I must say that I’ve enjoyed the comments just as much as they’ve provided an even deeper view as to your hear in this matter. I believe you care much more than you have attempted to let on … just a thought.

    I have visited your blog as well and hope you will contribute to The Orlando Blog again as this is a site we check at least 4 to 5 times a week. We have seen great stories here and appreciate the effort made to provide a source for family friendly fodder.

    Being from Winchester, Indiana I feel we have a kinship.

    I agree with your recent posts that it is done and we must accept and move on. I still will forever miss the anticipation of the next and the next and the next launch.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      I’m so glad you read the comments and found them to be valuable because there is still so much more to be told about the wonderful work that IS being done as well as how much more COULD be accomplished! Yesterday, I participated in a WEEKLY chat on Twitter:


      where we dreamed about how education might look in 10 years. We lamented at how little it HAS CHANGED in 50 or even 100 years, but we recognize how much technology has become available in only the last 10-20 years so we recognize that it’s STILL being “absorbed” although those of us who already recognize its potential would like to see a faster adoption rate.

      My tweets http://twitter.com/DrThomasHo best reveal MY heart :-) as well as my frustrations :-(

  6. Tom Burton says:


    Nice article and I agree with you. But I would ask you to look in on the educational communities of Houston Texas, Huntsville Alabama, John Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. And then there are all the vendors involved: Northrup Grumman in NY, Lockheed Martin in Colorado, Pratt & Whitney in West Palm Beach Florida (they made the fuel pumps) and countless others. We learned a lot during the space program but I fear we did not learn about how we learn and to help others learn. This is a national issue and as Tom Freedman calls it in “The World is Flat” “it is a dirty little secret.” We really need a quantum leap of a greater magnitude than chalk to markers!!! Let’s pray it comes soon.

    Warmest Regards, Tom Burton

  7. Able Driggers says:

    Amazing and thoughtful posting to be sure. I live 1 mile from Cape by old base housing. The area has changed so much in these past few years but nothing like what is to come. Sad times!

  8. Deanna Brilleo says:

    Great article.

    Great comments.

    Great reflection.

    Lousy situation and I think it could backfire for the USA by our losing the edge in readiness to get back to space.

    As for me, I believe it was the worst decisions that could have been made and I’m not talking just about the Space Coast but, for NASA as well.

  9. Jimmy Ross says:

    A very well constructed article that got my immediate attention.

    I have my entire family living on the Space Coast and the impact of this event is no less than catastrophic! 2,000 losing their jobs in mere days.

    I hear you on the educational impact and more but all I feel right now as a lifelong Floridian is heartsick, nothing less.

    As for the software industry, it was never truly cultivated here. That was handled more in the Houston offices. Most of the engineering positions were practical so without the actual program ongoing and in place there is no jobs. I can also tell you that the likelihood of getting their ‘like’ positions or pay replaced anytime soon is not very high.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      What’s done is done so we should focus now on how we’re going to respond to it! At the very least, aren’t there many lessons to be learned from this outcome?

  10. tomllewis says:

    Hi Thomas. Enjoyed reading you observations. The good thing is that now Central Florida has YOU living there.

  11. Kyla James says:

    I re-read your post this morning after reading the Orlando Sentinel Front Page Story regarding the ‘Uncertain Era’

    Seems to me that you’ve at least given a more insightful look than they did in considering the educational links.

    I’ve also read your follow up comments. Seems like this subject is near and dear to your heart.

    Thank you and I hope to see more of your submissions.

  12. Vicki Davis says:

    Thank you for mentioning me in your article.

    Many feel that to intrigue kids with STEM we need to add some STEAM by putting the arts into STEM education. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.) I will never forget when I took mybchildren on a Disney cruise, how fun the staff in the clubs made learning for my kids. I was awe struck at how much they were learning about math and science. I asked them “How does it feel to be learning so much while on vacation.” my youngest son said tone, “It doesn’t feel like learning, this is fun!” it isn’t that we have to entertain or make everything fun but I think that your location is uniquely positioned to lead STEAM education, edutainment, whatever you want to call it! Simulations are certainly part of it, but you have a weath of resources that could engage students in learning.

    Thank you for a thoughtful and well written post. I, too, am very sad about the current status of our US space program. No progress is backwards regression.

    Thank you again.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      I became aware of the movement toward STEAM in the last year or so and was personally encouraged because we’ve been encouraging our daughter’s development into a fine pianist and I attribute much of her mathematical aptitude to her musical training. I had not thought of the potential contribution of Orlando’s unique strengths in entertainment to STEAM education, edutainment, etc. I’ll have to explore that further and I hope my fellow citizens not only contribute to that train of thought, but start other trains of thought running as well!

      Thanks so much for starting this one!

  13. @ConstrueMax says:

    Thanks for such a great post on the reflection of potential future of the NASA program.

    I also appreciate your tie in to teachers, education and the like. The need to dream is by far so very important in todays students. I do realize and embrace what good computers have brought to our lives but, I wonder at times whether children have forgotten how to dream and see beyond what is ‘virtual’ and the reality of their smartphones, computers or PS3′s. One can hope … and pray.

    I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the writing and your viewpoint. Hope to see you post more. I am a daily reader of The Orlando Blog!

    • Thomas Ho says:

      Thanks for your encouragement.

      There’s another way to consider the impact of the vast amount of information which today’s students have available to them. In my personal experience, I am fascinated by what I have learned! If anything, I’m frustrated by the sheer volume which can so easily overwhelm us! Our young people can be similarly stretched, don’t you think?

      That should motivate us to redouble our efforts for information LITERACY. In a nutshell, that covers the spectrum of activities from finding information to critically judging that information! I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of that either!

  14. Augusto Cortez says:

    Hotbed of science … ABSOLUTELY! But how and why the state, better yet the federal politico’s allowed this travesty to occur right here in Central Florida I will NEVER understand.

    I recall standing as a child, outside and the entire school watching as John Glenn went into space. I was there! Can you imagine how sad I am in knowing that this land that has been a part of birthing such technology as velcro, computers, medical breakthroughs and allowing us to study the science of the earth and space will cease to exist as we know it …? I am heart-sick!

    Yes, things change. Yes, we can still get there through ‘other’ sources, but what a croc all that is when you look at what we are giving up in the ability to have the preparedness to go into space tomorrow. People, the teams are disbanding. The crews will be no more. The training and brainstorming of such science that has propelled us to where we are now (scientifically) will virtually end as we know it.

    What are they thinking … Condo’s and Waterfront property????? What else will the property be good for. Don;t laugh, we used to have a Naval base and Nuclear Training Facility right here … it is now Baldwin Park Community.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      I am aware of Baldwin Park’s “heritage” but I won’t blame property developers (I hope I’m not wrong about that!) for its closure, but instead I would rather attribute it to productive use of the property AFTER base closure.

      With respect to the end of the Space Shuttle program, I hope we can use it as a reminder that change always eventually requires adaptation as well as that we can’t always “depend” on government to do everything. I think that only government can tackle BIG challenges like Project Apollo as well as the STS, but don’t you think it’s about time for commercialization of lower earth orbit transport? As a matter of fact, maybe every government program ought to be initiated with an exit strategy in mind in light of our current political and economic climate?

  15. Angie Antonopoulos says:

    Excellent blog, Dr. Ho! You raise some excellent questions. I wish more was done to elevate the technology sector in Central Florida. I know Harris Electronics has a home there, but I’m not sure what other businesses exist! We miss you in Indiana!

  16. Bess says:

    Dr. Ho, thanks for calling my attention to your post here. I was just listening to an NPR special about how money is going into retraining personnel; I hope this is true, but I fear it is far too little. I wrote an open letter to President Obama quite a while ago (http://www.centralfloridatop5.com/2010/03/27/dear-president-obama/) which highlights how different upbringings Americans across the country have. However, here in Central Florida and along the Space Coast, you would hope that we would have a special interest in promoting space education and interest in our students. However, I find that there is such an emphasis placed on basics (FCAT, etc.) that children rarely progress into such special interests. I also think the public and media in general has had little interest (until just recently with the end of the Shuttle program) so nobody was keeping space travel in the public interest. When I firs started teaching 15 years ago, I had several children who dreamed of being an astronaut; last year I only had one child who said he wanted to go to the stars. Since we are stuck with the current changes and new course set for NASA, I can only hope that good old American enterprise will kick in and private companies will take the lead. I take heart with some of the new space races heating up and I still dream of traveling into space before I die. Thanks for the conversation, Dr. Ho.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      I don’t necessarily grieve about students no longer wanting to be astronauts because they have so many more opportunities than they had even 10 years ago especially with the commercialization of the Internet as well as other offshoots of the space program. I would grieve IF students no longer dreamed of aspiring to reach beyond the ordinary! That’s the price we pay by ‘squeezing out’ the curiosity which so many students seem to lose between elementary and high school! That isn’t a new phenomenon because I lamented that 25 years ago when I ‘noticed’ the difference between my 10-year old son and my college students.

      What FRUSTRATES me is that we have so many more tools at our disposal to FASCINATE students and we aren’t using them for a variety of reasons, but it’s especially tragic because so many of our teachers either don’t know about them or don’t know how to use them! That’s one of the reasons why I have tried to share through http://about.LearnStream.info

      • Anonymous says:

        Dr. Ho

        What FRUSTRATES me is that we have so many more tools at our disposal to FASCINATE students and we aren’t using them for a variety of reasons, but it’s especially tragic because so many of our teachers either don’t know about them or don’t know how to use them! That’s one of the reasons why I have tried to share through http://about.LearnStream.info

        Well said! I share your frustration and I can share from my own personal experience of being a technology consultant in this area, there has been a recalcitrance on the part of a number of teachers who DON'T WANT to use technology and the tools it has given them to spark that creativity in students. It seems to be a real dichotomy on the education front: on the one hand you see fascinating articles of what's being done in some circles, but on the other hand when you try to make these things available, the adoption rate is extremely slow and low. Though I never took any course from you, I observed you were always willing to stretch yourself and use new technologies in innovative ways. Not all in the education field want to enliven their core curriculum past what gets them by and is PUL approved by depts and administrations. I realize this may sound like a hard thing to say, and I apologize to those who may take offense, but the bottom line for me is that you can't go into the teaching field and believe you can stick with a static curriculum and presentation. It must be fresh and your own (don't take your predecessor's material – students want to learn what YOU have to teach them. When it comes to technology, the teacher must be as curious as you were and are, Dr. Ho, no matter what their age, or their students WON't BE. Both my mom and dad were teachers. My dad was a science teacher and used a number of NASA teaching materials that were available to teachers then. But even he says that schools have been so changed, as you say, by a number of reasons, that it is difficult for many to do this kind of innovation at their own discretion.

  17. Gordon Marcy says:

    Good questions Thomas. Could the shortfall you speak of be rooted in the very fact that the norms, traditions, behavioral drivers and cultural ethos are 50 years old? If I were there, seeing what you’re seeing, I would probably feel the same way. The causes of that go way back.

  18. Roger Bradley says:

    Whoa! Excellent post. Thank you Dr. Ho

  19. Judith G. says:

    Thoughtful article. I enjoyed this very much.

  20. Alan Greer says:

    Good questions. Wish I knew the answers myself.

  21. Chelsea Lourd says:

    My husband was there at the launch. He is also there tonight and will work through the final landing in the morning. He will be released from his job within 10 days. We are sad. We are concerned. We are financially unable to weather the results and will likely lose our home soon.

    Pres Obama and others should have seen the value of this program.

    Good article sir.

    • Thomas Ho says:

      In a way, your comment echoes the point I’m trying to make. In the same way that encouragement of STEM education and educational technology seem to be missed opportunities for central Florida, workforce development and retraining space industry workers seem to be missing as well! I would want to harness the motivation, experience, and ‘smarts’ of those folks for teaching, technical, and other meaningful careers where we need really good people to teach our kids and to make other meaningful contributions as they did in the shuttle program!

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