Annual Roger That! Conference features keynote from trailblazing astronaut

This year's Roger That! Conference will focus on the history of space exploration and feature a keynote from a trailblazing astronaut and scientific innovator whose life is being made into a movie.

José Hernández, NASA astronaut, engineer and innovator who played a significant role in the invention of the first full-field digital mammography system to help detect breast cancer, will speak on both days of the event, February 10 and 11.

The annual conference celebrates space exploration and the life of Grand Rapids native Roger B. Chaffee. Chaffee, along with Gus Grissom and Ed White, died in 1967 during an Apollo I pre-flight test when a fire broke out in the cockpit of their command module.

The joint venture between Grand Valley and the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is in its seventh year, features STEAM K-12 school programming from both partner organizations, an academic and public conference at GVSU and a public celebration at the GRPM.

A person wearing an orange uniform and holding an astronaut's helmet smiles. An American flag and the model of a rocket are in the background.
José Hernández will deliver the keynote for the annual conference.
Image credit - Courtesy photo

The speech by Hernández, titled “Reaching For Your Own Stars: A Recipe To Succeed In Life,” will highlight how Hernández turned his unique circumstances into a wonderful career. Hernández was a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-128 to the International Space Station in 2009. 

"José Hernández is a trailblazer who spent his childhood doing agricultural work with his family, constantly relocating from one job to another in California," said Deana Weibel, professor of anthropology and Roger That! co-organizer. "When he decided at a young age that he wanted to be an astronaut, scientist, and engineer, his family and teachers worked together to help him successfully achieve his goals. A movie about José Hernández's life, 'A Million Miles Away,' is currently in production by Amazon Studios.” 

Hernández will speak at 6:30 p.m. February 10 at the Loosemore Auditorium on GVSU’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The lecture is free through registration at the Roger That! website; it will also be livestreamed.

The GRPM speech by Hernández is currently sold out; visit the GRPM website for more information about museum-related events.

GVSU's free academic conference on February 10, open to educators and the general public, will present a wide array of speakers and learning opportunities.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to study the final frontier and find out about the birth of galaxies, and the history of spaceflight, from researchers and experts in this field," said Samhita Rhodes, professor of engineering. "It embodies GVSU’s values of lifelong learning and making education accessible to all in a variety of ways. It’s a unique event that draws from both the STEM and Humanities fields around a central, exciting theme - it’s a big universe and we were meant to explore it."

Some highlights of the academic conference:

  • Speeches from experts in topics ranging from physics to institutional directors to history. Speeches will be available in person and virtually, over Zoom. Register at the Roger That! Website.
  • A hybrid Design That! Challenge which allows students in grades 4-8 to create projects reflecting space-related topics.
  • A new outreach program is available to fifth-grade teachers in Kent and Ottawa counties. GVSU's Roger That! STEAM outreach coordinator will go to classrooms to talk about space as well as present free STEAM kits for students. To learn more about this program and to schedule a visit, email [email protected]
A person wearing an astronaut uniform smiles in a black and white photo.
Roger B. Chaffee is a native of Grand Rapids. The annual event celebrates his life.


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