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Kitsap Sun, Larry Steagall, Associated Press
In a Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 photo, former NASA astronaut Richard Gordon, center, laughs with principal Rachel Osborn,left, after she had him put on her helmet from her astronaut costume to show the school kids during an assembly in his honor at Richard Gordon Elementary School in Kingston, Wash. Gordon was the pilot of Gemini 11, and in 1969 was the command-module pilot of Apollo 12, which was the second manned mission to the moon.
When you are young, education is the most important thing you will ever do. —Richard Gordon

KINGSTON, Wash. — A goal that seems as far away as the moon might now seem attainable to children at Gordon Elementary School.

On Monday, they met a man who actually walked in space and traveled to the moon and back, the school's namesake, a man who knows a little about going after faraway targets.

Richard Gordon, who grew up in Kingston during the Great Depression, became one of 21 men who took on missions to the moon. As far as he went in the command module dubbed "Yankee Clipper" in November 1969, Gordon told the kids at the school named for him they could one day go farther. To Mars, even.

What they do now, he said, will make a difference. "When you are young, education is the most important thing you will ever do."

Gordon's visit to the school — named for him in 1994 — was well timed, said Principal Rachel Osborn. The assembly helped connect some of the children and faculty who were in schools elsewhere a year ago and were moved to the school this year as part of the North Kitsap School District's boundary changes. Those changes came after the district closed another elementary school, but Gordon Elementary was one of three schools the School Board considered as a possible closure target.

That possibility seemed as far away as the moon, too, as Osborn spoke to the roughly 480 students attending about Gordon's legacy, something they can ponder each day as they pass the school's astronaut statue near the entrance. As challenges come, she said, "You can think about the legacy Mr. Gordon has left for us ... the legacy of never giving up."

The assembly went from serious to fun in a hurry. The students joined in singing the school's song, which is addressed to Gordon himself, one that proclaims that "maybe someday we can fly to the moon."

Osborn had exited and returned dressed in an astronaut costume and led a question-and-answer session with the real flyer. The questions came from the students. When asked why he wanted to go to the moon, Gordon deadpanned, "If you had six children, where would you want to go?"

Another student had asked whether he encountered rocks. "There are lots of rocks," he said. "One of them is called the Earth."

The astronaut previously flew a jet from Los Angeles to New York in less than three hours, topping out at 869.74 mph. It takes more speed than that to break the Earth's hold on you, he said. He and his mates traveled as fast as 17,500 mph to get away from Earth and about 25,000 mph to come home, a three-day trip each way.

As the questions ended, "Fly Me to the Moon" began and the 84-year-old took to dancing with a former North Kitsap classmate, Mary Page, who was there among other Gordon childhood friends and family.

Gordon's younger brother, Norman Gordon, who lives in Redmond, said he witnessed the Apollo 12 launch from 3 miles away and felt the ground shake as his brother and flight mates Pete Conrad and Alan Bean lifted off. He said he wasn't worried either time his brother went to space, first as a space walker in the Gemini program and then as command module pilot on Apollo 12. "I was probably more proud than anything," Norman Gordon said.

After Monday, there are probably about 480 more kids who would say the same thing.

Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/