Terre Haute native lands NASA gig

Terre Haute native Griffin Pfaff has a front row seat tonight when NASA launches an unmanned spacecraft.

It’s a view he’s sharing on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter as well as Facebook.

Pfaff is spending three days at Cape Canaveral, Fla., as a social media correspondent for NASA’s launch of OSIRIS-REx, a spacecraft aimed at collecting a sample from an asteroid officially named 101955 Bennu, then returning the sample back to Earth.

His first Twitter posting was at 6:06 a.m. Wednesday.

“I have just been overwhelmed that we are here. I have never been to Kennedy Space Center before and Cape Canaveral. It is an awesome experience,” Pfaff said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Cape Canaveral.

“I am spreading the word of the rocket launch through social media. I am going on tours and got to interview [Dr. Ellen Stofan] chief scientist for NASA as well as [Lindley Johnson], head of planetary defense,” Pfaff said. Planetary defense tracks asteroids to ensure they are not on a path to collide with Earth, he said.

“That was amazing, really cool,” he said of the interviews.

Pfaff also watched the rocket being pulled Wednesday morning into place for launch and was to tour the Kennedy Space Center.

“This is the first time humans have ever done this sort of mission of collecting an asteroid sample,” Pfaff said.

Pfaff took some questions off of responses on his Twitter feed directly to NASA personnel, such as, “How can NASA energize the nation to support further space exploration?”

“I asked the chief flight director about her views” on how to do this, Pfaff said. The response, Pfaff said, “is to communicate how much NASA does for everyday citizens through technological innovations.”

He got the social media correspondent position after responding to a NASA posting on Instagram seeking people who post regularly to social media and who have an interest in NASA.

Pfaff has a vision of becoming an astronaut — something he makes known on Twitter, calling himself “Future first man on Mars.”

An early Instagram post shows him at Purdue, sitting next to a bronze statue of Neil Armstrong, a Purdue grad.

“That is the goal, to be an astronaut, that is the dream,” Pfaff said.

Pfaff is a 2015 graduate of Terre Haute North Vigo High School and is a sophomore in aeronautical engineering major at Purdue University. He is also in the U.S. Air Force ROTC at Purdue.

His parents are Chris and Tonya Pfaff of Terre Haute. His father is a colonel and serves as the Indiana Army National Guard director of strategic initiatives at Camp Atterbury, while his mother is a math teacher at Terre Haute North Vigo High School.

Pfaff returns to classes Monday at Purdue. Ironically, his engineering professor, Pfaff said, does not consider the experience an excuse to miss classwork.

“My engineering professor said I am going to miss a couple of points for missing class,” he laughed. “It is pretty ironic, but I guess they are used to this at Purdue.”

NASA’s launch is set for 7:05 p.m. today and lasts for about 120 minutes, according to NASA. 

Bennu is a carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid that is also potentially hazardous to Earth, according to NASA. The OSIRIS-REx mission will expand NASA’s knowledge of the hazards and resources in near-Earth space and will serve as a precursor to future asteroid missions.

Bennu completes an orbit around the sun every 1.2 years and every 6 years comes very close to Earth. These close encounters give Bennu a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century, according to NASA.

Follow Pfaff ‘s posts at Instagram: griffinpfaff; on Twtter and Snapchat: griffin_pfaff; and on Facebook: Griffin Pfaff.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.