Mike Mongo has a custom-made set of upside-down glasses. He stumbled on the idea a few years ago by accident, when some new glasses were pinching him, he turned them upside down to stop the bridge of his nose from hurting - and then he did a half-hour video Skype interview before remembering to turn them back around.
After he told his bemused wife about the incident, Mongo had an idea - why not wear upside-down glasses in elementary and high school classrooms when he guest-speaks about space? He found it gets the students' attention instantly.
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"I tell them grownups, their attention is constantly distracted by smartphones and newspapers, and it's hard to get grownup's attention and that's why my glasses are upside down," he said. "The students look at each other and I call tell they know exactly what I'm talking about."
While Mongo can't wear his clever glasses in every classroom in the world, he's expanding his reach with a new book called The Astronaut Instruction Manual for Preteens. Set for release on Tuesday (Oct. 13), it encourages students to think creatively when deciding to be astronauts.
Referring to his young readers as "humannaires" (after the Roman legionnaires of old), Mongo - whose day job involves computers and web design - encourages students to learn how to focus, how to hold their breath, and (perhaps in a foreshadowing of telling people not to forget their towel) to remember "everything always works out" in moments of stress.
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It's a message that Mongo already brings to classrooms in the United States and in other countries, including Jamaica, Haiti and even Cuba (with the assistance of former Congressman Joe Garcia.) He tells students they could be the first astronaut from Havana, or Haiti, and their eyes light up with possibilities, he said.
While not every kid will actually be an astronaut, he encourages them to think creatively about their careers. What they want to do. And then he tells them that most grownups have several careers, so they will have the chance to do many things when they get older. Mongo himself has spoken at the 100 Year Starship Symposium and is the chief brand and culture officer for Icarus Interstellar, both projects looking to bring people beyond the solar system in a few generations.