Kids aren't usually invited to this NASA operation center, but a 9-year-old child prodigy had scientists 'buzzing with excitement' during a private tour
A child prodigy who wants to be an astrophysicist got a private tour of a NASA mission control center.
David Balogun, 9, toured the James Webb Space Telescope Mission Operations Center in Maryland.
Scientists at the center "learned more than one thing from David," a spokesperson told Insider.
A child prodigy made headlines last month when he graduated high school at just nine years old and told Insider his ambitions of becoming an astrophysicist to study black holes and supernovas.
Now, kid genius David Balogun got a little closer to that dream.
When news got around to NASA and one of its contractors — the Maryland-based Space Telescope Science Institute, or STScI — they invited Balogun to visit the agency's James Webb Space Telescope Mission Operations Center, which has been based at the institute since it launched in late 2021.
"I had actually seen David's story all over social media, and thought 'Wow I'd bet he'd find a trip to Webb's Mission Operations Center exciting!'" Hannah Braun, a spokesperson for the institute, told Insider. She told Insider she asked around the institute to set up a tour, which happened earlier this month.
"Everyone was super thrilled to see his enthusiasm and drive," she continued.
David and his mom, Ronya, told Insider they were excited by the invitation — giving David a chance to get closer to his dream as the family sorts out which college the prodigy will attend.
David opted to wear his orange NASA space suit, which the employees at the center thought was "very cool," he told Insider.
The institute doesn't have the infrastructure to host regular tours, Braun said, so David's family got a private tour, where employees said they learned from him as much as he learned from them.
"Everyone was quite impressed with David and all of his knowledge," Braun told Insider.
She said the team was "really buzzing with excitement" before he arrived.
"We don't have children visit [the center] really, besides families of employees on occasion, so the crew didn't quite know what to expect with David," she said.
David got to see the Flight Control Room, which is "basically the heart of the Webb telescope" where "teams communicate with the telescope" and "monitor the general health of the observatory," Braun said, later adding that the scientists "were joking that he would probably ask science questions they didn't have the answer to."
She noted that when David spoke with the scientists "it was quite clear that David's knowledge was extensive."
"Our scientists were able to refer to specific observations — like one particular Webb image release that combined images from two different instruments — that David immediately remembered and could list off details about," she said.
The scientists also did a "mock-up for the soundcheck" as they would do with the astronauts, Ronya Balogun told Insider.
"That one's super fun," David told Insider, reiterating that it was just a simulation and he didn't actually speak with an astronaut. "I wasn't going to actually go and say, 'Oh, I'm a 9-year-old operations controller."
Ronya Balogun added that at one point during the visit, her son was describing Super Saturn, which the employees present in the room hadn't heard of before. Braun told Insider this took place as she and other employees were showing the Baloguns the center's VR technology, but there wasn't an astronomer in the room at that time.
"We were all discussing the different types of exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than our sun) that Webb studies and will study in the future. David then mentioned how cool Super Saturn is, and we said, "what's that?" So then we got to googling," Braun told Insider. "So everyone who spends all day around these sorts of things definitely learned more than one thing from David during his visit."
David, who lives with his family in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, began his hunt for colleges earlier this year with the help of his parents, Insider previously reported. He told Insider that he hasn't made a decision yet but is continuing to explore different scientific areas of interest.
In the future, David said he hopes to collaborate with NASA and other aerospace companies while also working to improve the education system for gifted children like himself.
"I'll work with NASA, but I'll have my own company," he told Insider. "My goal is to become an astrophysicist and reform the education system."
Read the original article on Insider