CAPITAL DISTRICT In 1985, Tom Norton tried his hardest to get on a space shuttle in hopes of playing his violin in space.
“I thought I could play my violin in outer space,” said Norton. “It is not trivial to think in terms of using the violin to measure manual and acoustical dexterity required to play the violin in a weightless environment.”
Norton, now 81, was a New York State finalist for the NASA Teacher in Space program that year but didn’t quite make it. That didn’t deter the high school physics teacher from fantasizing about how the experience could have impacted his students’ learning.
“I made a solar energy experiment book published for high school and college students and I thought I could have a similar book of experiments from outer space that the students could participate in,” said Norton.
For example, if he was circling the Earth and knew the rate at which he was traveling plus a few other scientific numbers, his students back in the classroom could have used the data to calculate the distance he traveled, the speed and predicted what stars he’d pass.
“They can do the timing from the clock in the classroom and I can bring them up to outer space to see what I see and do their experiments that way by taking real time data,” said Norton.
Remembering helps today
Norton enjoys sharing his close brush with the extraterrestrial, his diverse knowledge bank and other life memories whenever possible because with dementia, it keeps his mind fresh and cognizance active, said his daughter Susan Norton-Scott.
Lauren Jacobi, marketing director at Beacon Pointe Memory Care Community in Clifton Park, where Norton now lives, said staff rely on a combination of building aesthetics, therapeutic activities and communication techniques to help residents retain their memory and skills as long as possible.