One of NASA's newest workers is a top dog … literally. A golden retriever puppy named Aries goes to work every day at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. as part of the "Leader Dogs for the Blind" program. Her mentor is structural engineer Evan J. Horowitz.
As a child, Horowitz had seen a movie character raising a guide dog and it made a huge impression. "I've always wanted to give like most people do," said Horowitz. "Lots of people give money to charity, but I wanted to do something a little more, something more hands on, more from my heart."
Horowitz works on the rocket and capsule project that will take astronauts back to the moon. He used to be in charge of structural engineering for a research aircraft known as ARIES for Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System. That's how he came up with a name for his canine student.
Aries is Horowitz's third Leader Dog puppy, but his first since coming to NASA Langley two years ago. He put his name on a waiting list for a female golden retriever at the Rochester, Mich., based Leader Dogs for the Blind 18 months ago. During that time he made sure that he would be allowed to bring a puppy to work at a government aerospace research center.
"It took a little bit of diligence to get through to all the right people, especially trying to figure out who all the right people were," said Horowitz. "I contacted the office of safety, security, questioned legal and, of course, the management and my co-workers to make sure they were okay with a puppy in the office."
"Leader Dogs for the Blind not only appreciates the love and efforts of our puppy raisers, but also the organizations like NASA that allow the puppies to experience the work environment," said Sam Ziegenmeyer, Puppy Development Leader Dogs for the Blind. "It shows a vision of not only the stars but of people and their needs on Earth."
The goal of Aries' training at NASA is not to turn her into a rocket scientist, but a well-socialized dog with knowledge of basic commands. Horowitz says he's supposed to walk around work with the puppy as if she wasn't there, but that's not easy to do considering the attention the golden retriever attracts. "She's adorable. She's a lot of love. She's a lot of fun," added Horowitz. "She gets me to meet a lot of people… because she's just a magnet for socializing."
His NASA co-workers have responded well to Aries being around. He says they're helping with training and have learned to respect the blue bandanna she wears when she's "working." They have even volunteered to look after her if Horowitz has to go out of town.
Eventually Aries will leave town herself. After about 12 months she will return to Michigan to complete her training as a Leader Dog and then go on to her permanent home.
Horowitz says he's already prepared himself for that. "I have her as a little pup and I'm going to raise her to be a young adult," he said. "At that point I will have to give her away to go on to a life of her own, a new bigger, better, purposeful life."
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