''Brilliance can come from small places''
HARTFORD CITY -- Kevin Ford knows what it''s like to fail.
Three times NASA rejected his application to join the nation''s elite club of astronauts. Frustrated, he wasn''t going to try again, but a friend convinced him to give it another shot.
And in 2000 he began nine years of training. In August he blasted off into space as captain of the space shuttle Discovery.
"It''s easy to get frustrated when you get no for an answer," Ford told the students Monday at his alma mater, Blackford High School. Home to visit his parents and siblings for Thanksgiving, Ford stayed an extra day to talk at local schools. He showed photographs and videos of his 15 days in space.
And he also brought with him a memento from space -- a medallion the high school created to honor his mission. Still sealed in the thick plastic packaging required by NASA, that heavy gold-colored medal will be framed and hung in the school''s trophy case, along with a photo board adorned with a small Indiana state flag, a crew patch and a card that bears Ford''s signature. Aboard Discovery, the items traveled 5.7 million miles and made 219 trips around the Earth.
But the prestige of his career is barely evident in a conversation with Ford, 49. Easy going, he seemed at home standing at center court of the high school gymnasium talking to teenagers. Only his blue NASA jumpsuit made it obvious that he wasn''t a member of the staff.
He answered students'' most pressing questions about space travel: What''s the food like? How do you go to the bathroom? Did you have a television?
The Air Force fighter pilot, married and a father of two grown children, is proud to call Blackford County home. He''s here at least four times a year and on Monday called several of the adults in the room by name. Some are relatives. Others are family friends.
Aaron Christie, a senior, was among the dozen or so students to meet Ford at half court. He has dreams of being a combat pilot -- think Top Gun -- and though he''s outgrown his dream of being an astronaut, he''s still in love with airplanes.
For Aaron, it''s both amazing and inspiring to know that someone with Ford''s profile came from his same school.
"Brilliance can come from small places," Aaron said.
And that''s exactly Ford''s point. There''s no need to think that being from Blackford County, or any small town in Indiana, is going to hold someone back.
"You might not walk in and be King Kong at Harvard, like I wasn''t King Kong at my college," Ford said. "Take advantage of what you can do."
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