Ex-astronaut takes Knoxville elementary students out of this world

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- NASA Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas, who flew on space shuttle Columbia three times and Discovery once, paid a special visit to Lonsdale Elementary School students Wednesday.

Thomas discussed his career and how America's transportation industry will influence space travel to Mars Wednesday at GRIDSMART Technologies, Inc. in Knoxville.

Before Thomas' presentation at 9 a.m., he met and shared breakfast with about 24 children from Lonsdale Elementary School. The children were chosen to attend after they became finalists in a poster contest in which they designed their view of the future of transportation. The children's artwork was displayed at the meeting, and winners in the contest were announced.

Thomas traveled to Lonsdale Elementary Community School at 1 p.m., where he discussed space travel and the future of transportation with students and staff.

Thomas was selected by NASA in January 1990, and he became an astronaut in July 1991. Thomas also served in the Safety, Operations Development, and Payloads branches of the Astronaut Office. A veteran of four space flights, he logged over 1,040 hours in space. Thomas retired from NASA in July 2007.