by Deb Price, Education Coordinator, Discovery Science Center
On April 23, students from Webber Junior High in Fort Collins participated in a mock NASA launch. It might as well have been the real thing: 7th-9th graders were chosen to participate in the program by submitting applications, resumes, and references, and then given one of many jobs including astronaut, mission control staff, flight director, or engineer, just to name a few. They took their jobs seriously; as Mission Control guided the astronauts on board a life-size model of the shuttle, the room was utterly quiet. The shuttle pilot flew the “craft,” and if he crashed, the mission would have turned into a rescue operation.
During the mission, the astronauts performed experiments “in space” designed by other students while the ground crew monitored the flight. A video conference with Space Center Houston halfway through the morning let students experience what it’s really like for astronauts to live in space, including how they eat…and even details about how they go to the bathroom!
Space is such an engaging topic for students. They are enamored with the idea of space travel, and it motivates them to increase their science, math, engineering, and technology skills. These students were not just “playing” astronaut—for two days they WERE part of a NASA mission, even designing their own mission emblem.
Colorado has many connections with NASA, through a plethora of companies that produce, design, or build components for space missions. Discovery Science Center and the Fort Collins Museum are also part of Virtual Space Community, an educational outreach of Space Center Houston.
There are budding young scientists in our midst here in Colorado, and who knows — the first astronaut to land on Mars could be from right here in Fort Collins! As astronaut John Glenn said, “The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.”