Submitted Photo — Boy Scouts of America Troop 158 members stand in front of a NASA rover built for Mars and Moon exploration at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scouts were given a tour of the facility by NASA employee and Natchez native, Lucien Junkin, and each drove the rover for nearly 10 minutes.
Submitted Photo — Boy Scouts of America Troop 158 members stand in front of a NASA rover built for Mars and Moon exploration at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scouts were given a tour of the facility by NASA employee and Natchez native, Lucien Junkin, and each drove the rover for nearly 10 minutes.

Bright Future: Local Boy Scouts go to Mars and back

Published 12:04am Wednesday, October 2, 2013

NATCHEZ — Owen Rice carefully pushed a joystick forward that controlled a NASA rover prototype built to explore mars before realizing exactly what he was doing.

“It just hit me that I’m getting to do something that not many people will every do in their entire lives,” Rice, 13, said. “It was awesome.”

Rice and his fellow Boy Scouts of America Troop 158 traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Aug. 24 and 25 to take an extensive tour of the facility.

Scoutmaster of Troop 158 Freddie “Mr. Freddie” Voss said the group was fortunate to have a fellow Natchez native and former scout, Lucien Junkin, escort the tour.

Junkin is a senior robotics engineer in the robotic systems technology branch at the space center and led the group on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility.

The nearly five-hour tour took the scouts through a workstation where NASA robotics are created, new and historic mission control areas as well a neutral buoyancy laboratory, which is a large indoor pool where astronauts perform simulated tasks in preparation for upcoming missions.

“The pool has half of a space station in it, so they can practice in zero gravity just like if they were in space,” Altman Biggs, 13, said. “It was three football fields long and 40 feet deep.”

The scouts thoroughly toured the robotics area and got to see a Spidernaut, which is a robot being developed by NASA that could service spacecraft.

“It had a bunch of legs and then an astronaut robot coming out of the middle,” Jack Russ, 11, said. “It had a really cool helmet.”

After the tour of the facilities, scout leader Finley Hootsell said Junkin took the group to a large area near the space center that had various terrains for a demonstration of how the rover works.

“We went out to that area and each one of us got to drive for about five or 10 minutes a piece,” Hootsell said. “It was really phenomenal.”

Giving the scout troop the opportunity of a life-time was one Hootsell said he’ll never forget.

“These boys, who are all 10 and 11 years old, thought it was cool, but I don’t think they realized the opportunity or what they were experiencing,” Hootsell said. “I’m sure they will when they get a little older.”

Junkin also gave the scouts a take-home project to bring with them to Natchez.

“He set them up with a kit where they can put their own robot together,” Hootsell said. “So now the scouts are taking the lead to put together a robotics team to build the robot.”

Other scouts that attended the trip include Ashton Gipson, Griffin Hootsell, Alex Tal, Ethan Huff and Chandler Johnson.