DETROIT – A simple thank-you message led to a big surprise after a Metro Detroit teenager heard a presentation from an astronaut.
Jessica Middleton, 16, heard a presentation given by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy at the Detroit Science Center. She was so inspired that she sent Cassidy a heartfelt note and mailed it to the Johnson Space Center in Houston as a way to thank him.
"I feel like that's really important today with how crazy the world's going," Middleton said. "Just take time and let someone know that they matter, no matter how big or small it could be."
"This one really did inspire Chris, and I think the handwritten aspect was part of it," Jeff Cassidy, Chris Cassidy's brother, said. "But really the heartfelt letter that Jessica wrote, it touched him."
Jeff Cassidy runs a nonprofit called Spread Positivity. The Cassidy brothers got to work coming up with a way to show Middleton how much her note truly meant, so they reached out to her family.
"I was just so happy for her because I know it just means so much to her," Kim Middleton, Jessica Middleton's mother, said. "She's such a good kid. She always does the right thing, gets good grades."
With the help of Jessica Middleton's family, her teacher and school administrators at Walled Lake Central, they coordinated a call from Chris Cassidy into the classroom and kept it a secret.
"I am super excited about the surprise, so you can imagine, I mean, teenage girls, I thought, 'There's no way we can keep any surprise ever,' but I think (we) managed to pull it off," Kim Middleton said.
Chris Cassidy wanted to tell Jessica Middleton how much her thank-you note meant to him and surprise her with a trip to Houston and a personal tour of the Johnson Space Center. The trip was all paid for by an anonymous donor.
"I'm so shocked," Jessica Middleton said. "It's absolutely incredible. I'm so excited to meet him again and tour the facility and have this opportunity. It's absolutely incredible."
Kim Middleton had already packed their bags, so they left school Wednesday and headed for the airport that afternoon.
On Thursday morning, Chris Cassidy met Jessica Middleton. First, he took her to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is a 6 million-gallon pool with a submerged space station model used for training. They then flew with the help of a robot that simulates reduced gravity.
Jessica Middleton got to check out a model of the International Space Station where astronauts train. The model of the orbiting lab includes sleeping quarters and the Russian Soyuz Capsule.
They capped the trip off with a look at NASA's mission control for the International Space Station.
"I like to do things that are meaningful to me, and this was something I was really touched by," Chris Cassidy said. "I wanted to give back to her as well for saying thank you, but also to let people know that it's important to be nice to others, to treat people fairly and to treat people the way you like to be treated."
Chris Cassidy said anyone who flies in space needs to be a good person. He said Jessica Middleton has all the makings to be an astronaut.