KAYSVILLE -- Third- and sixth-grade students from 27 schools across the state got a rare chance to catch a glimpse at the life of an astronaut.
On Tuesday at Davis High School, as a part of Utah Space Week, students heard from former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, 79, who talked about his experience as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
The most exciting aspect for one of the students was learning that the astronaut was from Utah.
"I had no clue there was an astronaut from Utah," said sixth-grader Emily Jardine, who attends Ellison Park Elementary School in Layton. "It means that our state can be put out there.
"It was also really cool to know that person had been in space, and that could be you someday."
That was one of the messages Garn wanted to get across to the students.
"How jealous I am of every one of you, because of the amazing opportunities that are in your future that don't even exist yet," Garn said.
Garn was 29 years old when the Russians put the first satellite into space. As a young Navy pilot, he never thought it would be possible to be in space, he said.
And yet, a little more than 20 years after that, his education and experience as a fighter pilot enabled him to train in the space program and fly into space, deploying satellites and conducting experiments.
Garn talked about how if everyone could see our planet from space, it would change the way we treat each other.
"When you realize what a tiny speck we are in the grand scheme of things, you'd realize that wars don't make sense -- and this is coming from an old war pilot," he said.
Garn encouraged students to get their education, so they can take advantage of future opportunities.
"I was born only 29 years after the Wright brothers flew an airplane, so if someone had told me then I'd be orbiting the earth someday, I would have asked, 'What have you been smoking?'" Garn said.
Davis School District officials also hope the presentation succeeded as yet another tool in their effort to help youngsters realize the importance of education.
"We love this opportunity to talk to kids about science and math, and remind them why it's important to work hard in school," said Davis School District Superintendent Bryan Bowles, who attended the event. "It is not just critical to their future, but to the future of our nation. If we don't do a good job, kids won't be interested in these things."
"It helped me learn that to be successful, you have to go through the training to be the best you can be and know what to do if something goes wrong," said Tanner Fisher, a sixth-grader from Buffalo Point Elementary in Syracuse.
Tanner said he would like to be a fighter pilot someday, so the presentation was right up his alley.
He said his favorite part was learning how Garn felt inside the shuttle when it launched, and how fast the shuttle actually goes.
Representatives from ATK, a company that manufactures materials and products in support of U.S. defense, aerospace and security, showed students some of the new rocket models being worked on for future space travel.
Donna Trease, the Utah Space Week director and Creekside Elementary School sixth-grade teacher, said it's good for students to know that many companies in Utah, such as ATK, deal with space.
"It's really important that we support these companies and educate our kids, so we can keep (the companies in Utah)," Trease said.
Part of the third- and sixth-grade core curriculum involves learning about space technology and astronomy, so it seemed only fitting to incorporate a discussion with astronauts, something Trease started doing for students 12 years ago.
Various astronauts have participated through the years.
Nearly 70 schools wanted to attend the assembly, but with limited space and funds, only 27 schools were able to participate.