LB grad receives astronautics medal

Bryan J. DeBates, director of education for the Space Foundation and son of Chuck and Monica DeBates of Lake Benton, was named the 2014 recipient of the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF).

DeBates said that his interest in space began in elementary school here in southwest Minnesota.

“My fifth-grade teacher, Mary Haugen, launched rockets with us,” DeBates said.

When asked about receiving the award, DeBates said he was “amazed. I’m still speechless.”

The award was first given to posthumously to Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space and one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Since then, it has been awarded to outstanding educators that promote the study of astronautics.

“When you look at all of the past winners, they are all very highly regarded aerospace professors. To be in that mix, mentioned with those names, is overwhelming. It’s an amazing honor,”?he said.

His dream was to become an astronaut, so after high school in Lake Benton, DeBates joined the Air Force ROTC and attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. But being an astronaut was not in the cards for DeBates.

“My eyesight went bad, so I couldn’t be a pilot,” DeBates said. But in his year at SDSU, he discovered a new path. “I knew I had a gift and passion for teaching.”

DeBates transferred to Northern State University in Aberdeen to study education and later joined the Space Foundation in 2006, the same year he received his master’s degree in education from Regis University in Denver.

“There is no normal day-to-day here,” DeBates said about his job at the Space Foundation. “We get to work with amazing teachers from around the word that are passionate about using space in their classrooms.”

Currently, DeBates is focused on continuing to innovate online learning for bringing space education to classrooms across the globe. He also works on exhibits at the Space Foundation Discovery Center, including a Mars rover robotics lab and Science on a Sphere presentations and acts as a liaison between NASA astronauts and school children.

“Students come on field trips here and seeing their amazement and wonder on their faces is very rewarding,” DeBates said. “This could be the key moment for a child that could make them want to be an astronaut or an engineer. We get to see that on a daily basis and it’s very fulfilling.”

DeBates will get to travel to Toronto for the International Astronautical Federation Conference in September, where he will be a keynote speaker and receive his award.

Even though he didn’t get to become an astronaut, DeBates is more than happy with the direction his life took.

“I’ve probably done more space stuff as a teacher than I ever would have as a pilot,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to kids back home that are interested in astronautics, DeBates said “I know a lot of people say it but don’t give up on your dreams. Anybody from anywhere can follow and achieve their dreams. Just know that your dreams may take you on a different path.”