New Mexico MESA

New Mexico MESA

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MESA Adventures at Space Camp!

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Christopher Nichols and Wyatt McDaniel from Taylor Middle School at Space Camp

Aug 11, 2014 –

Read the thank you letter to Northrop Grumman from Taylor Middle School MESA Advisor Margarita Smith in regards to escorting two of her students to a NASA Space Camp in Alabama this summer.

July 26 through August 1st is a week two New Mexico MESA students and their teacher will never forget thanks to the generosity of Northrop-Grumman.  Northrop-Grumman recognizes the importance of getting students interested in STEM careers; that is science, technology, engineering and math. Northrop-Grumman provided scholarships for two New Mexico MESA students and two teachers to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.  The two students, Christopher Nichols and Wyatt McDaniel Miller and teacher Margarita Smith, were selected from the Taylor Middle School.  The other teacher, Kenda Meathenia is from Belen, NM.  Northrop-Grumman sent teachers and students from most of the states for a week at Space Camp; there were even teachers and students from The United Kingdom.

As a teacher, I attended presentations on the history and future of the U.S. Space Program and specifically learned about the Space Shuttle. Retired astronaut speaker Dr. Don Thomas shared with us how hard work and determination made him an astronaut and his favorite memories of flying on the Space Shuttle. He showed us pictures of what it was like to live on the shuttle and that one of his favorite sights was watching Earth from above and looking down to see shooting stars enter Earth’s atmosphere.  At the student graduation ceremony at the Saturn V Hall, Dr. Don Thomas placed the wings on their flight suits and shook their hands. He also visited with the students during a “Lunch with an astronaut”. He signed autographs and took pictures with the kids.

Author Ed Buckbee gave a presentation of his friends, the first seven American astronauts known as the Mercury 7. Homer Hickman, author of October Sky, told us about his memoir, the setting (his childhood home town) and the theme of working hard to accomplish your dreams regardless if the people around you say that is not possible. He even read passages to us and autographed books. All three speakers were very interesting and inspiring.

Our hands on experiences included working a simulation of Mission Control during a Space Shuttle Mission. How well we worked as a team is what determined our success.  We had to communicate with precision and effectively while monitoring our screens.  Later I got to be the commander in a simulator for the space capsule Orion. This last simulation was my favorite.  We had a lot of fun, collaborated and completed our mission successfully.  We experienced 1/6 gravitational pull as you would on the Moon, rode a G Force Accelerator which spun us at 2G (prepares astronauts for the gravitational forces they would experience while entering Earth’s atmosphere), brave teachers rode a Space Shot Simulator and a human gyroscope.

In a laboratory setting, we formed groups and competed in water filtration, egg drop, building roller coasters, ablative shielding and individually built model rockets which we got to shoot off. My favorite project was the ablative shielding where our objective was to design a ¼ inch shield for an egg for 3 minutes from the heat of a flame. As a group, we explored Rocket Park and the Saturn V Hall which has an extensive collection of space memorabilia.  All teachers exchanged ideas/labs we could implement in our classes and vowed to collaborate, making the learning experience for our students richer.

Both Wyatt McDaniel Miller and Chris Nichols attended Space Academy. I asked them to rate how much they had enjoyed this experience and they both said they really loved it.  Both would like to go back, Chris to Aviation Camp and Wyatt to Advanced Space Academy. Both students said the simulators and the missions were their favorite activities. On our return trip, they were sharing how animals that have been studied in space had learned how to adapt to weightless conditions, for instance frogs have to learn how to jump and jellyfish have to swim to their food, not drop on it as they do on Earth. Wyatt started listing all the simulators they had experienced: 2 Shuttle Missions, 1/6 gravity chair, MMU (Man Maneuvering Unit), 5 degrees of Freedom (which he described as floating), G Force, human gyroscope and Space Shot.  Both Chris and Wyatt mentioned the most challenging task of all was an underwater training to build a cube using PVC tubing. It involved team work and the hardest part was getting the cube out of the water. They said they knew their friends would definitely enjoy attending Space Camp. I know my MESA students learned a lot and had the time of their lives while learning.

The goal of both MESA and Northrop-Grumman is to interest students in STEM careers. Chris said he wants to become a veterinarian and Wyatt wants to become an engineer at Northrop-Grumman. At the entrance of Space Camp there is a sign that says “Through these doors enter the world’s future astronauts, scientists and engineers.” I do believe this goal has been accomplished!

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