Astronaut Mark Kelly Visits Elementary School

Jeff Rutzky, Joanne Pollara, Laura Lab, Buzz Lightyear, Captain Kelly, Mark Robertson, Mark Robertson,Sandra Mordecai, Ron Charles and Dr. Donna Rando. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Mark Kelly Addresses the Crowd Credits: Cynthia Cumming
 Students pay respect to Captain Kelly with astronaut helmets. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Fifth grade students perform a reading of Kelly's children's book, "Mousetronaut."  Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Fifth grade students salute Captain Kelly. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
The WOHS Jr. AFROTC leads the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – It’s no secret that astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, twins, are the two most famous graduates of West Orange’s Pleasantdale Elementary School, and it was an exciting day on Oct. 13 as Captain Mark Kelly paid a special visit to his alma mater.

Mark Kelly is a naval aviator who has traveled to into space four times including voyages on the Space Shuttles Discovery and Endeavor. He was a pilot and a commander, leading his teams on missions to the International Space Station.

His twin brother, Scott, is currently aboard the ISS as part of a year-long study to determine whether travel to Mars may be possible (the trip to Mars should take three years). NASA will study both brothers upon completion of the study, to help determine the effects of extended space travel.

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On Oct. 16, Scott Kelly broke the U.S. record for “most days spent in space,” marking his 383rd day of living in space that day. His record surpassed the previous record of 382 cumulative days, according to NASA.

However, this isn't the only record Scott Kelly will break during his current stint in space. On Oct. 29, he will break the record for the “single longest spaceflight by an American astronaut,” by having spent 216 consecutive days in space. The record is currently held by Michael Lopez-Alegria, who spent 215 days in space in 2006.

He tweeted, “Records are meant to be broken. Look fwd to one of my colleagues surpassing my end 500+ days on our #JourneyToMars! …

Kelly's mission in space will end on March 3, 2016, "by which time he will have compiled 522 total days living in space during four missions," NASA said in a statement.

Excited students and staff saluted Mark Kelly as he entered the Pleasantdale gym. And, students had prepared helmets and wore them as part of their recognition. In addition, the Student Congress welcomed Mark Kelly and the fifth grade chorus performed two musical numbers, “Land that We Love,” and “Don’t Let the Music Stop,” as well as a reading of Kelly’s children’s book, “Mousetronaut.”

Students also presented him with a scrapbook and spirit wear, while Superintendent Jeff Rutzky presented Mark Kelly with a WOHS tie, saying he hoped to someday see that tie in space.

Mark Kelly regaled the students with his adventures in space and his fond memories of Pleasantdale School.

“It’s great to be back at Pleasantdale where I spent so many good years,” said Mark Kelly, who, addition to going to Pleasantdale, attended Roosevelt Middle School and graduated from Mountain High School in 1982, along with his brother.

“You have a lot to look forward to,” he told students. “Someday you might be able to take a spaceship instead of a plane to travel around the world in a few minutes.”

In describing his childhood, Kelly said, “I didn’t think about what the future held for me, but if you do well in school, listen to your parents, work hard and pay attention, you will have so many opportunities.”

 “Astronaut Kelly has taught us so many things today,” said Pleasantdale Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara, “and that we can reach for the stars. With hard work and a good heart it’s all possible.”

Pollara then held up a laminated copy of a newspaper heralding the 1969 moon landing.

 “This newspaper from 1969 represents the past; Captain Kelly represents our present, and all of you are our future,” Pollara said.

 To see all the photos from Mark Kelly's visit, click HERE. (Photo credits: Cynthia Cumming)

 To see photos from Scott Kelly's year-long stay in space, follow him on Twitter HERE.

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