CAPE GIRARDEAU - When most people think of NASA and the space program, they think of Cape Canaveral, not Cape Girardeau.
Those people, however, probably don't know that Cape Girardeau is the home of Missouri's only NASA Educator Resource Center.
A new traveling exhibit from NASA scheduled to be displayed outside the Linda Godwin NASA Education Resource Center at Southeast Missouri State University Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is intended to change that and increase public awareness of both the center and NASA's goal of making space travel as routine, safe and affordable as today's air travel - "Building the highway to space."
Those visiting NASA's Starship 2040 exhibit, which is housed in a 48-foot-long tractor-trailer rig, will walk through passenger, engineering and control compartments of a futuristic commercial spaceliner mock-up and talk with NASA experts - one of whom grew up right here in Sikeston.
Keith Dill, son of Wanda Hileman of Morehouse and the late Quitman "Bo" Dill, was born in Dexter but attended grade school in Morehouse and spent many of his formative years in Sikeston.
"Keith graduated from Sikeston High School in '76," according to his mother. "Keith used to work at the Bank of Sikeston, he worked at Wal-Mart, he worked at TGY and at Fisherman's Net," said Hileman. She claims his favorite job, however, was working on the garbage truck in Morehouse. "He didn't get where he is easy."
After graduating from Sikeston High, Dill went to SEMO for three years before graduating from the University of Missouri at Rolla with an mechanical engineering degree. He received his master's degree, also in mechanical engineering, from the University of Tennessee.
Becoming an aerospace engineer for NASA's Space Transportation Directorate a little over a year ago was the fulfillment of a longtime goal for Dill. "I really always wanted to do this," said Dill. "I wanted to work for NASA right out of school."
A hiring freeze at NASA delayed things, however. "It took me 19 years to go to work for NASA," said Dill. In the meantime, he worked for NASA contractors "doing similar work."
Dill explained most aerospace industry work is done by NASA contractors who often work in the same buildings with NASA's employees. "The only difference is the color of our paychecks and our badges."
The Starship 2040 exhibit was conceived and created at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where Dill works "developing new technology for future launch vehicles and spacecraft," he said.
As the Marshall Space Flight Center is the lead center for propulsion, there is an emphasis at that facility on that aspect - which is right up Dill's alley. "Most of my career has been all about propulsion," said Dill. "It's a good place to be if you do that sort of work."
Dill said he volunteered to be one of NASA's representatives during the exhibit's stay in Cape Girardeau. "I thought it would be a lot of fun and a good experience," said Dill, as well as an opportunity to "go back to the area I essentially grew up in."
In addition to being on hand at the exhibit to answer visitors' questions, Dill is scheduled to speak at several area schools over the three-day period. "Hopefully it will generate a lot of interest and enthusiasm in the school kids there," he added.
"I think this exhibit's going to be great," said Hileman. "Every parent ought to take their child there, in my opinion."
Innovations suggested aboard the exhibit including automated health monitoring systems, high-energy propulsion, navigational aids and emergency and safety systems are all based on concepts and technologies presently being studied by NASA Centers and aerospace industry and academic partners around the nation including some in Missouri.
In the last year, NASA obligated more than $36 million in contracts and research funding to Missouri businesses, academia and non-profit organizations.
Starship 2040 is handicapped accessible and is free to everyone.
For more information about the exhibit and a complete listing of upcoming tour dates, visit: http://www.starship2040.com.