Apollo 16 Astronaut Charlie Duke, one of the twelve people in history to walk on the moon, spoke to an audience of roughly 1,000 schoolchildren at A&M’s Rudder Auditorium, Thursday morning.

Duke spoke about his time in the Apollo program, his three-day mission on the moon, and his experience during take-off and in the lunar module. He also awarded NASA Scholarships to two Aggies.

Duke and Apollo 16 commander John Young landed on the moon on April 21, 1972. To those on earth, the moon looked like a half-moon.

“When I go out in the yard and there’s a half moon…that was the moon where we landed,” said Duke. “I still look up.”

In the audience were students from Bryan ISD’s Odyssey Program, an application-only cohort of Bryan ISD students who excel in STEM classes. The program began at Stephen F. Austin Middle School but has now branched out to the Elementary and High School levels.

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While the students take numerous science and mathematics courses, in addition to general schoolwork, the Odyssey Program is space-based. It’s slogan is “Mission to Mars.”

“Its meant to challenge people and make them think of going to mars as the program says and science and space exploration,” said Enrique Florez, an 8th grade student in the program.

The Odyssey classroom resembles a play-pen to the uniformed passerby. Legos, robots (both finished and in-progress), and space paraphernalia line the walls. It’s up to the students, aided by guided projects and dedicated faculty, to use these tools in various STEM projects.

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“There’s a lot of creativity. One of the things this program does is allow them to bring that out,” said Naveen Cunha, a teacher at Stephen F Austin Middle School and one of the Odyssey Program’s founders. “My goal for these kids is a love of learning.”

Cunha has worked with NASA scientists in the past and uses those experience to help inspire his students.

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“Most of these kids are looking at [my experience and saying] ‘I can get to the moon, I can get to Mars,’” said Charlie Duke, discussing STEM programs. “To be challenged by these difficult courses, then its all worth it.”