If I were to think of all the teachers I have ever had, my high school Physics teacher was my favorite. He was passionate about the subject and would go to great lengths to bring physics to life. One day he introduced the topic of Newtons’ third law of motion, which led to the Rockets and finally NASA. He talked about how a giant rocket carried three astronauts to the moon, and how they returned to earth safely. I was flabbergasted, I asked, “how did NASA manage that impossible feat” ? My teacher smiled and showed us a bundle of sticks – Can anyone break it? None of us had an answer . Then he gave each of us one stick , can you break your stick ? Everyone said yes. Pointing to the bundle, he explained that NASA was a place where industry, defense, and academia worked together. These agencies had put away all their essential differences and collaborated for the incredible launch of the Apollo lunar landing. I will forever remember his teaching; alluding to the bundle of sticks, my teacher taught me the importance of teamwork, how to put aside our differences and how when we work together, we become Unbreakable.
Decades later, I found myself, to my utter astonishment, at NASA. Friends, there are key events in individual’s life, moments that fill one with much pride and excitement. Sometimes they occur unexpectedly, sometimes they surprise you and sometimes they leave you spellbound. My red-letter day was the 10th of January 2015 when I joined Astronaut Mike Fincke at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston for an especial event. Colonel Michael Fincke was a NASA Astronaut who was famous for space walks at the International Space Station ( ISS). His wife, Renita Saikia, was instrumental in arranging several live interactions with college and high school students in India while he was on board at ISS. I was covering those fascinating events, in a magazine and on the annual publication of this magazine, Astronaut Mike Fincke agreed to talk and interact with participating college students in India from NASA via Video conferencing.
https://youtu.be/8Jd64dgsTRM ( Video Link)
That evening, as I walked inside the building housing the Astronaut Appearances center, Mike took me through the curved walls covered with posters and layouts of space capsules, probes and rovers, offering a rare look at some of the most fascinating, and enthralling stories of scientific achievement. NASA was formed at a time when the United States and the free world were threatened by the meteoric rise of the Soviet Union who had launched Sputnik. In response , the United States Navy launched America’s first satellite Vanguard which, however, lifted only four feet before the rocket exploded in a fireball. That evening as I was reading the history of NASA in the hallowed halls of Johnson Space Center, I was recalling my teacher : A bundle of sticks is unbreakable but when they are untied and separated, they break - a single stick breaks easily. When the United States Navy worked alone, it broke. After that, NASA was formed when various branches of the military, aviation , academics and private entrepreneurs came together. And they sent three Astronauts to the moon, 240,000 miles away , in a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, returning and re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at staggering 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat to rise as much as half that of the temperature of the sun. There were so many road blocks but all the agencies brought all their skills to the table to rise to the incredible challenge, Friends , they were Unbreakable!
While interacting with the students in India, Astronaut Mike Fincke talked about the International Space Station, NASA’s most impressive achievement. NASA forged an unprecedented alliance between the United States and European and Asian powers , especially Russia to finance and build a truly International Space station. The station has quietly provided a stable platform for an enormous amount of scientific research in biology , immunology , and the biosciences – none of these developments would be possible on the earth’s surface. That night as I was getting ready to leave, Mike handed me an ISS sighting schedule and bade me goodbye. A few weeks later, at the appointed time, I looked up into the night sky and spotted the satellite. As it slowly moves from one horizon to the other words of Astronaut Mike Fincke echoed in my head “you will see one of humanity’s greatest achievements.” I stared at it as if it had been almighty himself in a golden chariot ridding overhead. As I stood there awestruck, I thought of the people up there and the incredible work they are doing for us, and for all of humanity.
Friends, if we help each other and work with each other, it will be impossible for anyone to break us. But if we continue to be divided amongst ourselves, each of us won’t be any stronger than a single stick. Friends, success is not about one person being better than another, success is about all of us building a better tomorrow When we connect with others, our power to do good in the world is increased exponentially, Friends, let’s get it together collectively, and we will be Unbreakable.