The Young Astronauts Program (YAP) was started in 1987 by Dr. William Blount who was, at the time, a Flight Surgeon at Rickenbacker Air Force Base. The program was housed at the Neighborhood House and was provided to children attending the center’s after school program. The instructor was Sergeant Matheson, Affirmation Action officer, for the Air National Guard. After Sergeant Matheson’s death, Elbert Cates, Superintendent, Bolton Field Airport, pilot, former Marine and member of the Air National Guard, volunteered to become instructor for the program and directed the activities for the YAP until 1993. The program reached boys and girls from grades four to nine. Activities include aviation instruction which was designed to enable the youth to eventually progress to a private pilot’s license. Field trips to Air Force bases were taken to study operations, aircraft and career options. The Merrymakers Foundation, in 1993, reviewed the program and provided a grant to ensure the continuation and expansion of site visits. The Foundation selected the Young Astronauts Program as a demonstration project.

The goal for the Young Astronauts Program was to develop a formal resource network for aviation, space, and related math and science studies for youth in the Columbus metropolitan area.


Dr. Cynthia Hardy, President of the Merrymakers Foundation from 1991 to 1998, served as program administrator for the Young Astronauts Program as the Merrymaker Foundation demonstration project. As program administrator, she designed, implemented and evaluated activities. The Young Astronauts Program was presented to the Foundation by Dr. Hardy as a unique method to focus at-risk youth on the value of math and science exploration. By challenging students through individual and group motivational activities centered upon aviation and space, Dr. Hardy was able to gain educational, corporate, military and community-based support to send qualified student participants to Space Camp through the Foundation’s mini-grant program. The program supported thirty students to attend Space Camp before the project’s demonstration period ended.

The first three years of the program were conducted within two settlement houses – St. Stephens and the Neighborhood House. Dr. Hardy determined that program evaluations supported the expansion of the YAP specifically to the public school system to achieve broader impact by reaching a greater number of students. The collaboration for the past continued to be administered by Dr. Hardy. Gloria Edgerton of the Urban Systemic Initiative served as the public school liaison. Both Dr. Hardy and Ms. Edgerton were part served as YAP teaching staff at onsite weekly sessions within a joint elementary school and middle school venture. Core instructors were members of Rickenbacker Air National Guard flight crews, as well as pilots and aviation specialists from within the Columbus community.


The Young Astronaut Program of Metropolitan Columbus evolved from a demonstration project in 1993 to a program partnered with the Gifted and Talented Program within the Columbus Public Schools.  After 12 years serving Columbus Public School students, the program model needed revisions.  Previously, the program used a military-based model  (instructors and program sites),  but security concerns following the attacks of Sept. 11 and changes within the school system led to a hiatus for research and planning to develop a refined model. Central Community House, an exceptional inner city settlement house since 1936, was selected to house the updated program in a community based setting.

Central Community House is a comprehensive, neighborhood-based community center that has been serving the near east and south sides of Columbus, Ohio. Between 2010 and 2014, YAP partnered with the Central Community House to provide unique hands-on STEM education to urban youth at the Center.

In October 2012, a partnership was established with The Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies to conduct YAP educational sessions at the OSU Airport. Undergraduate and graduate students/pilots serve as instructors. The YAP core instructor staff, the shuttle crew for The Limited, Inc. coordinate curriculum development, provide instruction for select sessions and advice for program operations.

Curriculum for weekly sessions, which are held throughout the year, has included instruction in the principles of aviation, robotics, technology, and NASA Kids Club curriculum. Hands-on activities have included sessions focused on: a) rocket construction and launching, b) simulation aviation software, c) radio controlled helicopters, d) LEGO engineering and robotics, and e) construction of tabletop hovercrafts and balsawood airplanes. Teaching staff for YAP programs include corporate pilots, flight line and military aviation officers, and subject matter experts from related fields (e.g. rocketry and meteorology). The Central Community House assists the Young Astronauts Program with supplies, facility, and support staff for class sessions.