NASA Engineer (and Great Grandfather) Major John Westberg Visits Third Grade

Some kids get to write about their heroes. Some kids get to meet their heroes. Indian Creek third grade student Max Ellinwood is not only related to his greatest hero - but he also got to introduce him to his entire class! This month, Mrs. Fowler asked her students to write about a hero they admire. Max chose to write about his great-grandfather, Major John Westberg, who works at NASA, building instruments to go on Mars (such as rovers.) After reading Max’s essay, Mrs. Fowler reached out to is family and asked if Maj. Westberg might be willing to visit Indian Creek as a guest speaker, and he kindly obliged. The resulting visit was an experience that the third grade students will remember for years to come!

John Westberg is a retired Air Force officer and pilot, retired federal civil servant, a current employee at NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and great-grandfather to Max Ellinwood. He grew up in Rockford, Illinois, in the 1930s, living through the aftermath of the Great Depression and the second World War. As a boy, Maj. Westberg played drums in the high school band, swam every day at the pool, and even worked at a furniture factory. Once entering the newly-formed United States Air Force, he learned to fly, became a flight instructor, piloted bombers in both Vietnam and Korea, and married his wife, Sybil. After retiring from the Air Force, Maj. Westberg became an engineer at NASA, building satellite sensors. Today, he continues to work at NASA, flies planes with his computer flight-simulator, and still swims every day. John’s interests include air shows, flying, swimming, exercising, woodworking, physics research, martial arts, Hogan’s Heros TV show, Swedish heritage, and music.

During his visit to ICS, Major Westerberg shared his life experiences growing up as a child and described what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression. Major Westberg told the children that he originally went to the Post Office to enlist in the Navy but they were closed, so he went next-door and enlisted in the Air Force, and it ended up being a very successful career. He applied to flight school and flew Billy Mitchell Bombers, C 47 planes, T 29, and KC – 97E aircrafts. After the Air Force he joined NASA. He briefly discussed current flight projects with the students and focused on many of the successes of women scientists in NASA. He encouraged all of our students, especially the girls, that they can do anything they put their mind to.

Major Westberg shared pictures of the Mars Science Laboratory called Curiosity Rover as well as NASA’s Space Launch System focusing on the rocket. In addition, the students were given a scale model of a spacecraft bus to examine. A highlight of this wonderful visit was learning and being able to hold a rover tire. A great deal of time and energy is put into designing tires that go onto rovers in order to increase survivability in harsh environments. During the end of Major Westberg’s presentation, he even shared space ice cream with all of the students!

Major Westberg was his great-grandson Max's hero before his visit to Indian Creek. Now he is a hero to 27 third grade students as well!