TITUSVILLE, Florida -- Jim Christensen paces outside his home in the shadow of Kennedy Space Center, glancing skyward as he visits on his phone. A NASA rocket launch earlier this morning was scrubbed due to a computer glitch. He'll peer up and up again this week if and when the launch materializes.
Christensen was a curious 11-year-old boy a half-century ago when Neil Armstrong took "one giant leap for mankind" in stepping on the moon.
"I watched on our family's black-and-white TV in our basement as we landed on the moon," Christensen says. "I raced outside immediately and looked up to the moon with my binoculars. The entire time we were on the moon, I was running back and forth from the TV to outside to look up at the moon."
Apollo 11, which made that historic landing July 20, 1969, inspired the boy from Stromsburg, Nebraska. In reality, earlier Apollo missions, like Apollo 8, which launched 50 years ago Friday and within days became the first manned mission to orbit the moon, also played a role in sparking the curiosity of the son of the late Harry and Marlyce Christensen, now of Sioux City. A local newspaper, he recalls, published a photo of little Jim Christensen in his fourth-grade classroom, standing amid several classmates, all of them showing models of 1960s-era space-age travel and technology, pieces all constructed by Harry Christensen in the effort to feed his son's passion.
Jim Christensen graduated from Northwestern College in 1979 and took his "giant leap" south to Wall Lake, Iowa, where he taught science for three years. He then landed a job as a teacher in the Galva-Holstein Community School District and team-taught sixth grade with Betty Waller, the mother of his wife, Kim (Waller) Christensen.
Jim Christensen taught 15 years at Galva-Holstein, then served Northwest AEA for 16 years, a time in which he stretched his professional wings to NASA. One summer he landed a position through the National Science Teachers Association at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In time, NASA bought out Christensen's contract with the AEA as he served the Teaching from Space Program.
"I set up procedures to do video conferences between students and astronauts aboard the Space Station," Christensen says.
Following a six-month stay with NASA in 2001, Christensen returned to Northwest AEA, but kept stoking his interest in space exploration. He helped develop a program that sent Northwest Iowa and other Siouxland and Midwest students to NASA for week-long educational competitions.
That branched out into a similar program Christensen headed for students of Pakistan, India and China. The pro behind the Indian exchange was an entrepreneur who convinced Christensen to head to Florida. Eventually, Christensen was tapped by NASA to help design and open the Educator Center as part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
"I was uniquely qualified as I'd worked so long with kids and I'd also worked in the astronaut center at Johnson Space Center in Houston," he says.
Christensen helped pilot an effort to design, build and open the ATX Center, shorthand for the Astronaut Training Experience, a site in which students, adults and corporate employees may spend hours getting a feel for what astronauts experience.
"We have two Orion capsules, two Mission Control centers, and each person has a badge and a computer assigns you two either Orion or Mission Control and you site at a computer that has a timeline and your instrumentation," he says. "You are directed on decisions to make; it's not just a script."
When the time ends for one simulation, say the Orion experience, participants switch and head to Mission Control, or vice versa. This portion of the stay, which includes a micro-gravity simulator, lasts five hours.
Then, a seven-hour experience involves Mars Base One in which participants land on Mars, walk on Mars and reside on Mars for a time. "You land and either go to the operations center, the life experience (plant) lab or the engineering lab," he says. "You work through problems and show communication or collaboration skills. We have swivel chairs so people must turn and talk to their neighbor. We have real plants and every student has a chance to plant something."
Christensen's involvement led officials to honor him with the Buzz Aldrin ShareSpace Foundation Award in Education, an accolade bestowed at a gala reception in which Jeff Bezos was hailed for his innovation and Mae Jemison was feted for her contribution to humanity as the first female person of color to work as an astronaut.
"I received the award and sitting there in front of me were (astronaut) Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who served as command module pilot when we landed on the moon," Christensen says. "I told them both how I spent that evening in 1969 running outside and back inside in Stromsburg, Nebraska."
Christensen, executive director of the Buzz Aldrin ShareSpace Foundation, laughs, sharing that "pinch-me" reaction he still has for his daily work, even at age 61. "My job is to inspire kids, that's a cool job description," he says.
In many ways, it hasn't changed since he landed in Wall Lake, intent on encouraging young learners.
"With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing coming up, my next meeting involves finishing details on a giant moon map," he says, offering notes about a book and curriculum package his organization will see distributed to schools across the U.S. and beyond.
"I'm headed to Brazil soon to work with a group for two weeks," he says.
The experience of being a teacher, he concludes, prepared him for this work. The experience of being a student whose thirst for exploration was constantly fed has certainly paid dividends, too.
In many ways, he's still that bright-eyed learner, always looking skyward and beyond, that next frontier. The rocket launch scrubbed Tuesday morning will happen soon, if cool, clear skies hold on Florida's east coast. "They'll try again tomorrow," Christensen says.
And while he'll watch, he won't use binoculars. "For me," he says, "the fun is in the big picture."
DONOR: Greenberg Jewelers
ABOUT THE DONOR: Greenberg’s Jewelers in the Southern Hills Mall is a fourth-generation business now in its 118th year. Co- President Amy Greenberg-Sachnoff said the company and mall team led by Jeff Plautz and Brett Ladwig enjoy the opportunity to serve the community by creating memorable moments in the lives of customers. The company has eight locations in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska, and represents the most desired brands in the industry, such as Hearts on Fire, Gabriel and Love Story.
DONOR COMMENT: "We have supported the Mr. Goodyear for over 30 years. Our families live and work in this community. It is a honor and a privilege to be able to bring joy and happiness to children who may not have had much to celebrate. My grandparents and parents started a tradition of caring for the children of Siouxland and we feel a deep desire to keep the tradition going forward," Greenberg-Sachnoff said.
SIOUX CITY -- U.S. Rep. Steve King said Tuesday he would support a partial shutdown of the federal government if congressional negotiators fail to meet President Trump's request for $5 billion to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As part of a stopgap bill aimed at keeping non-essential portions of the government running after midnight Friday, Democratic negotiators have repeatedly opposed Trump's demand. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer have proposed no more than $1.6 billion outlined in a bipartisan Senate bill, with the money going for fencing upgrades and other border security, but not a wall.
Democrats also offered to simply keep funding at its current level, $1.3 billion.
In an interview at Journal offices, King, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, said there needs to be at least $5 billion in wall funding in any compromise funding bill or he will vote against it.
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller on Sunday said, "We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration." Asked if that meant having a government shutdown, Miller said, "If it comes to it, absolutely."
Of Miller's comments, King said, "That has been my advice to the president."
King, who narrowly won re-election in Iowa's 4th District, added he told fellow Republicans last week that the wall funding must happen now, since Democrats will take control of the House in January after picking up 40 seats in the November elections.
"I'll be the last one to blink. This will be, this is, the last bite at a build-the-wall apple," King said.
King said Republican leaders should have not blinked earlier this fall, when there was another looming funding deadline, as the new federal fiscal year approached on Oct. 1. King said Republicans, including Trump, should have fought to fund the wall at that time, then let it become a key issue for voters to debate over the final weeks to the midterm election.
King said, "it was another kick the can down the road," with a short-term continuing resolution measure to fund the government into December.
Now, with crunch time at hand, King said he plans to fly back Wednesday for votes in Washington D.C. He is a long-time immigration policy hardliner who said the wall will stem the flow of people from the south in Mexico.
If the president and Congress fail to reach a funding deal, thousands of federal employees would be sent home without pay during the holidays.
About one-quarter of the government would be affected, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who heads the GOP deliberations, said Tuesday he doubts a shutdown will happen.
Trump was non-committal Tuesday afternoon when asked about the prospect of a shutdown of some government agencies.
“We’ll see what happens...Too early to say," Trump said to reporters at the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
SIOUX CITY -- A former Woodbury County department head has filed suit against the county and County Supervisor Matthew Ung, alleging he was discriminated against because of his age.
Former Human Resources Department Director Ed Gilliland filed the lawsuit Saturday. Gilliland, 64, led the department from April 2014 to Jan. 2, 2018. At the time of his departure, Gilliland told The Journal he was retiring.
After he left the position, Gilliland applied for unemployment benefits. Officials for the Iowa Workforce Development, which oversees benefits for the state's employers, denied his claim, and he appealed.
In challenging his application, the county claimed Gilliland voluntarily quit, which, in most cases, disqualifies an employee from collecting benefits.
In his ruling, state administrative law judge Devon Lewis awarded Gilliland the benefits, concluding he "did not quit but was discharged from employment for no disqualifying reason."
Gilliland filed a petition in Woodbury County District Court, which states the "defendants discriminated against Ed and constructively discharged him in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act."
He is seeking damages, including compensation for emotional distress and attorney fees. Gilliland is represented by the Timmer & Judkins law firm of West Des Moines, Iowa.
According to the lawsuit, Ung and county supervisor Jeremy Taylor assumed the board chairman and vice chairman roles in 2016 and "almost immediately...began a crusade to rid the County of its older managers and employees." The petition says "on many occasions, Ung told Ed he wanted 'fresh' ideas and 'young' managers working for Woodbury County."
Taylor was not named individually as a defendant in the lawsuit.
In a statement to the Journal on Tuesday, Ung said, "I found our former human resources director to be a nice man, and it pained me personally to have to deal with a personnel matter. I did not want to hurt his reputation or his record, and offered him the chance to resign in dignity and seek other employment, which he did, and which my fellow supervisors accepted unanimously in open session. But no good deed goes unpunished. I bent over backwards to be very kind and gentle, and in turn am maligned."
Gilliland now lives in Story County, Iowa, and could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
Woodbury County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rocky De Witt said the county attorney's office had not studied the lawsuit, so he had no comment, while awaiting legal advice.
Gilliland's petition says the county forced out two other experienced department heads who were in their 50's and older.
In both his state administrative hearing and in the petition, Gilliland claimed he was ousted after Ung accused him of breaching the confidentiality of a Florida woman who was offered a job as the county's community & economic development department director.
Ung then demanded that Gilliland resign, and asked him why he would want "a s--- job like this, anyway," Lewis wrote.
Melissa Thomas, who worked in the human resources department under Gilliland, was named his successor as director in December 2017.
Gilliland is requesting a jury trial.