SCOTTS VALLEY -- For stellar answers to questions about outer space, just ask a NASA engineer.

Ted Garbeff, 30, of Scotts Valley, responded to questions from 4-year-old British boy Lucas Whiteley last week with a 10-minute YouTube video.

The video has been viewed more than 70,000 times and has captured the attention of British media, including the BBC and the popular news website The Telegraph. Teachers at Whiteley's school, Sunny Hill Primary, played the video at a school assembly.

Lucas's father, James Whiteley, had also sent questions to NASA as a young boy. He decided to make a video of Lucas and email it to a few NASA employees.

Ted Garbeff prepares a spacecraft heat shield model for testing in a wind tunnel. (NASA Ames / Dominic Hart)
Ted Garbeff prepares a spacecraft heat shield model for testing in a wind tunnel. (NASA Ames / Dominic Hart) ( SCS )

The video made its way to Garbeff, a wind tunnel engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View. He was charmed by the boy's inquiries, and responded by making his own video, with help from his wife and a colleague. He was inspired by the educational television shows he grew up with, such as "Reading Rainbow" and "Bill Nye the Science Guy."

In the video, Garbeff stands in front of the largest wind tunnel in the world, where he helps to test models of new airplanes and rockets.

To answer Whiteley's question, "How many stars are there?", Garbeff goes to Seabright State Beach in Santa Cruz. A spoonful of sand, he said while holding about a thousand sand grains. Imagine all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world, he says. That's how many stars there are.


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"We go to that beach often," Garbeff said. "So I thought, wouldn't it be fun to show a bunch of people from Yorkshire our unique, beautiful Santa Cruz beaches?"

Whiteley also asked whether any animals have been to the moon. "No animals went to the moon," Garbeff says, "but animals have really helped us understand the way space works and how well humans can live in space." Garbeff shows pictures of the famous Russian space dog, "Laika," and "Ham" the chimp, sent into space by NASA in 1961.

Garbeff has been surprised by the media attention he's attracted, which he called "scary but exciting."

Garbeff grew up in Stockton, and took an interest in space exploration at an early age. He studied aerospace engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

"Being lucky enough to get a job at NASA has been pretty special," Garbeff said. "I wanted to carry on that idea of motivating the next generation of kids."

Follow Sentinel reporter Molly Sharlach at www.twitter.com/MollySharlach


Ted Garbeff in front of Ames’ Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel with his LEGO space shuttle model. (Ted Garbeff/Contributed)
Ted Garbeff in front of Ames' Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel with his LEGO space shuttle model. (Ted Garbeff/Contributed) ( SCS )