By STEVEN XIE, senior
WE’VE ALL seen the sign on our way to school: Polanksy Park, proudly emblazoned in gold lettering, adorned by the town seal. The placard guards the entranceway to a parking lot used by our juniors, along with a park, on the other side of Grove Avenue opposite JP Stevens.
Yet very few know who Polansky really is or why his name has been given to the park. Perhaps no one is aware of how Mr. Polansky is a shining example of excellence and a role model for the Hawks of JP Stevens.
The “Polansky” in question is Commander Mark Lewis Polansky, born June 2, 1956 in Paterson, NJ to a Jewish father and a Korean mother. He grew up here in Edison and attended JP Stevens High School, graduating in 1974 before going on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, as well as a Master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, at Purdue University.
Immediately after college, Mr. Polansky received an Air Force commission and earned his pilot’s license at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma in 1980, along with numerous honors and citations. He spent the next 12 years of his life mastering some of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, including the F-15 Eagle fighter jet and the A-10 ‘Warthog’ close air support ground- attacker. Mr. Polansky has served as both a flight instructor, teaching pilots how to take down enemy aircraft in dogfights, and as a test pilot for developing weapons and systems. Before he retired from active service in 1992, he had flown more than 30 different aircrafts and spent more than 5000 hours (almost 7 months) in the sky.
Mr. Polansky joined NASA after he retired from Air Force service and served as an aerospace engineer and research pilot. In 1996, he achieved his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut when he was selected to report to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. After years of training, Mr. Polansky undertook his first shuttle mission in 2001 aboard the Atlantis. He went on to fly two more missions in space in 2006 and 2009, aboard the space shuttles Discovery and Endeavour, respectively, spending over 309 hours in outer space. In 2012, after countless years of service to his country, Mr. Polansky bid a fond farewell to the Astronaut Corps and retired. He is now 57 years old and lives with his wife and two children.
Along the way, Mr. Polansky never forgot his hometown, nor the high school of his youth. While serving with NASA, he not only made return visits to Edison and spoke to the students at JP Stevens, but also held programs at the nearby North Edison Public Library. This ambitious Hawk dedicated his life to serving his country and community. While others may have settled for less, he never forgot the inspiration and hope of his younger days, which allowed for him to lead a successful life and a distinguished career. He exemplifies the work ethic, courage, and citizenship that we hold in high regard here at JP Stevens. For his outstanding record of military and public service, Mr. Polansky was honored with the dedication of the park across from his alma mater by Edison township officials in 2006. So, the next time you pass by that unassuming sign on Grove Avenue, think about the man himself, who has braved outer space and supersonic velocity, who lives as an example of success and character, and who grew up almost the same way you did. He worked hard, had fun, and remembered to keep trying to achieve his dreams. And through perseverance and commitment, this Hawk soared into the stars.