One of the only people to have seen the earth in its entirety encouraged students at Nichols School to be leaders and to consider a career that could take them to Mars.
"Don't let anybody get you involved in drugs," retired U.S. Capt. Jon McBride told Nichols Middle School students. "Instead of letting them pull you into it, you drag them out of it."
McBride, who piloted the Challenger space shuttle during a 1984 mission, spent half the day Friday at Nichols, talking to fifth- and sixth-grade science classes and a precalculus class, and also presenting a lecture to middle schoolers.
A West Virginia native who became a Navy fighter pilot, McBride, 67, was in NASA's first shuttle class in 1978. He spent 197 hours -- more than eight days -- in space. One of the most difficult things about a space mission is coming back to earth and trying to walk after living in zero-gravity, he said.
"You don't want to fall down in front of the TV cameras; that could be the end of a good career," he quipped.
While in space, his face got red and puffy, an effect of no gravity. He gained 1.5 inches and lost about 8 pounds, he said.
His visit to Buffalo comes as the world is observing 50 years of space exploration. Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first person to orbit the earth April 12, 1961, and Alan Shepard was the first American in space on May 5, 1961.
It also comes as the United States is winding down the shuttle program.
"It will be the first time in three or four decades that we Americans won't have the opportunity to get our own citizens into space," McBride said. "It's kind of sad."
The astronaut gave a brief history of the space program, and speculated on the future for Nichols students.
"The first man or woman to walk on Mars could be right here in this audience," he said.
"We want to keep this door open so you can go do and get to experience what we got to do," McBride said.
McBride's visit was part of Earth Day activities at Nichols. Recycling is necessary in space, he noted, and is good for the Earth as well.
"We can do better. Your generation and your children's generation can do better," he said.