NASA brings outer space to life for sick children at NIH

Lou Mayo. (WJLA photo)

BETHESDA, Md. (WJLA) – NASA formed an ongoing partnership this year with the Children’s Inn at NIH. Every month, scientists visit kids staying there to cheer them up and teach them about space.

This week’s Harris’ Heroes are NASA educator Dorian Janney and astronomer Lou Mayo.

With a little frosting, licorice and sprinkles, cookies are quickly transformed into models of the sun. They’re even more quickly devoured by their makers.

The kids are patients at NIH, staying at the Children’s Inn while undergoing treatment.

Mayo is giving each child a glimpse of the moon through a telescope.

“I saw it from the telescope. It’s very nice,” said 14-year-old Geethaka Mahinkanda.

“I love working with kids, because they have that sense of wonder and free spirit and unbounded ability to explore and ask questions,” Mayo said.

Janney, who is also a longtime teacher, visits the inn every month.

“I just get a lot of energy from listening to their preconceptions and finding out what they’re really interested in,” she said.

Christian Rice, a 14-year-old patient, said, “I want to search for life on somewhere else than earth.”

During the holidays, staff members say programs like this are especially needed to lift the children’s spirits.

“It really was just something to brighten their day—take their mind off of where they were during the day at medical appointments,” said Laura King, the senior director of the Volunteers and Community Outreach Program at the inn.

“It’s pretty amazing getting to do this,” Mayo said.

To cap off the night, the scientists put together a large shooting star light display with the kids. All together, they watched it illuminate at the inn’s first annual light show and holiday party.

“I just love Christmas; it’s a great time of year,” Christian said.
NASA employees cover different topics with the youngsters each month. Earlier this year, astronaut Mike Hopkins spent time telling the children all about his 166 days living in outer space.

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