NWSC’s new docent has the “Wright stuff”

By Richard Loft
12/08/2015 - 6:00pm

A docent, according to an online dictionary, is a person who “acts as a guide for visitors to the museum, gallery, or zoo.” Sound boring? Not if you’re on a tour with David Wright, the docent CISL hired this past year to interact with visitors to the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.

David Wright, NWSC docent
David Wright stands next to his favorite display at the NWSC Visitor's Center. (photo: AJ Lauer)

David Wright is a former Air Force and NASA pilot, with Bachelors degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, and Masters degrees in both Adult Education and National Security and Strategic Studies. His interest in Earth science stems from his years flying at the edge of space with NASA.

In short, David Wright is an interesting guy. To quote his NASA bio online:

“Wright concluded a more than 20-year Air Force career in August 1999, after a three-year assignment with the Joint Staff J3, Directorate of Operations at the Pentagon. Prior to that assignment, he was commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, Calif., the unit responsible for training all U-2 pilots. He was the operations officer for one the largest U-2 operations in history, flying reconnaissance missions over Iraq and managing an unprecedented U-2 flying schedule during the 1991 Desert Storm conflict. Wright also saw duty as an aircraft commander in the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and was a T-38 instructor for three years following completion of pilot training in 1978. Wright has logged more than 4,500 flight hours in six different types of aircraft.”

He knows a thing or two about flying.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1999, David joined NASA, where he served as a research pilot, flying among other craft, the ER-2, a civilian variant of the military U-2S reconnaissance aircraft. These missions carried scientific instruments to study the Earth during worldwide deployments. It was on these missions that he first got to work with NCAR scientists. A memorable experience was when Wright flew an unprecedented NASA ER-2 mission over Hurricane Emily (category 4/5) during the TCSP campaign in 2005. Experiences like these fueled his interest in the Earth sciences, a passion that he has brought to his docent position at NWSC.

But did he ever apply to become a NASA astronaut?

“I lacked one key requirement: I was never a test pilot, which was a required element in the early days of the space program.” Wright said, but noted that he did wear a spacesuit when piloting the U2/ER-2, and could see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth from his vantage point cruising extreme altitudes. “Occasionally you could pick out stars in daytime.”

Rounding out his impressive resume, David also has an extensive background in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, with a Teaching Certificate (grades 5-12) with Math endorsement, and a Masters Degree in Adult Education. He has been a math teacher for the two years prior to joining the NWSC, and has significant experience teaching and interacting with large groups, including both adults and youth. David currently teaches courses like American History and Mathematics at College America in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Inspired by the Apollo program in his youth, David has always had a passion for science and technology. David summed up his experience as a docent at NWSC so far in this way: “What a privilege to be working in such a state-of-the-art facility designed for such crucial research, and to be able to share its impact, importance, and marvelous design with the public.”