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NASA Space School – Junior

The first week of CASE Space School begins at the United States Spaces and Rocket Center (USSRC), situated next to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Space Camp was launched here in 1982 by NASA aerospace engineer Werner von Braun to increase the engagement of young people in science. The Year 8, 9 and 10 students arrived late after a long journey, so after a quick orientation of the accommodation, it was straight to sleep, ready for an early wake-up tomorrow.

Day 1 - Monday 9th December 2019
Monday began with the challenge to design a space station on Mars. This got the students thinking about international collaboration in Space and was an opportunity to learn more about some of NASA's future space missions. Next, we watched a presentation on astronomy in the Planetarium, with plenty of popcorn and American candy, followed by making a start on the rockets we will be launching by the end of the week. Throughout the day there were opportunities to go on the various rides situated around the USSRC, such as the ‘Moon Shot’, the ‘G-Force Accelerator’ and the ‘Hypership Motion Simulator’. After dinner, the students started training in their various roles for the Space Mission Simulation they will be completing tomorrow.

The Mission Simulations are one of the key parts of the week at the USSRC as the students learn more about the various roles required for a successful space mission and experience how a space mission might play out from beginning to end.

Training for a Mission Simulation

Day 2 - Tuesday 10th December 2019
Tuesday was a chilly one in Alabama and started with some group fitness to warm us up. We then spent the majority of the morning completing team building activities and had a look through the museum where we saw a moon rock under alarmed glass.

After lunch, we completed the first of our 2 mission simulations, where we launched a rocket to the moon, and successfully bought the astronauts back home to earth.

In the afternoon it snowed outside, and as some of the students had never experienced snow before we made time in the schedule for a few snow angels and snowball fights before dinner.

Exploring the USSRC facilities in the snow.

Day 3 - Wednesday 11th December 2019
Wednesday kicked off with an information session about the International Space Station and space weather and then moved onto the astronaut training simulators. The Multi-Axis Trainer is designed to simulate a tumble spin that an astronaut might experience when re-entering the earth's atmosphere, and the 5 degrees of Freedom Chair simulates the zero-gravity conditions astronauts have to work under in (or outside of) the International Space Station. Students then found out their roles in the final Mission Simulation happening tomorrow (a mission to the International Space Station this time) and had a quick briefing and practice to prepare themselves. In the afternoon students worked in teams to try and build the most effective heat shield and completed the finishing touches to their rockets that will be launched tomorrow.

Putting the finishing touches on our rockets.

Day 4  - Thursday 12th December 2019
Thursday was a successful final day at Space Camp. The final Mission Simulation to the ISS went off without a hitch, with the team successfully launching a shuttle into orbit, docking it at the ISS, completing various scientific experiments, carrying out repairs to the station, and then landing the shuttle safely back on earth. They then launched the rockets they had been building with some awesome results. The day wrapped up with Space Camp Graduation where the students received their Space Camp wings. Despite stiff competition from hundreds of students from across Australia and New Zealand, a Year 9 Kristin student won the overall award for attitude, participation and collaboration skills throughout the week.

Team Oberon’s Class Photo.

Day 5 - Friday 13th December 2019
Most of Friday was spent in transit to our location for the remainder of CASE Space School, the Doubletree Hotel in Houston, Texas. With the Hotel as our base and a huge air-conditioned bus and driver at our disposal, the students had the opportunity to experience the culture of the USA as well as participating in some amazing STEM and space science-themed activities in and around Houston.

A beautiful sunset as we arrive in Houston, Texas.

Day 6 - Saturday 14th December 2019
Saturday was an action-packed first day in Houston, starting with the long-awaited shopping trip to Walmart where students dug deep into their pockets to purchase American treats, toys and Christmas presents for their friends and family back home. Next, we went on a tour of Rice University, a world-leading university that specialises in undergraduate applied sciences, including space science.

Rice University was the site of President John F Kennedy's 1962 speech declaring his intention for the United States to become “the world's leading space-faring nation” and to reach the moon before the end of the 1960s. Many Rice University Alumni have gone on to become NASA employees and astronauts.

Once back at the hotel we readied ourselves for dinner with former NASA Astronaut and resident of the International Space Station, Nicole Stott. Dinner with Nicole was a highlight of the trip for many. She gave an inspiring presentation and had many of the students in awe and dreaming of their futures as space flight engineers and astronauts. She took the time to answer questions and take photos with the students, sharing that the hardest part of her training was having to learn to speak Russian. 

Kristin students with NASA astronaut and space flight engineer Nicole Stott.

Day 7 - Sunday 15th December 2019
During the Houston portion of the trip we were lucky enough to have Johnathan Catherman, a bestselling author and teen mentor, spend some time with us and give a few presentations on the 7 habits of highly effective teens. Jonathan's presentations were engaging and enlightening and enabled the students to make the most out of their time at camp by incorporating the 7 habits into their day. After a presentation in the morning, we headed off for our last chance to gather Christmas presents at the Memorial City Mall and then spent the remainder of the day exploring the prestigious Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The highlights of the museum were the Morian Hall of Paleontology and the Weiss Energy Hall where we learned about the extraction and use of various fossil fuels in Texas as well as the benefits of moving toward sustainable energy use.

Students with their spoils after a shopping trip at Memorial City Mall.

Day 8 - Monday 16th December 2019 
Today was a favorite for many on the trip, with two of the most anticipated activities occurring in one day; the tour of the Johnson Space Center and the Houston Rockets NBA game.

The tour started with a tram ride through the NASA facilities. We passed buildings where a lot of exciting work was going on, including the planning for the future Artemis missions to the Moon and later, to Mars. The first building we entered housed the old mission control room for the Apollo Missions to the moon, which had been conserved in its original state right down to the books and coffee cups on the desks, and flags on the walls.

The second building housed the mock-ups of various ISS modules, spacecraft, and landers, which are accurately modeled down to the last switch so that after training in them the astronauts know exactly what to expect when the time comes for their real mission. In this facility we also saw engineers working on Robnaughts; robots designed to operate in the ISS. After the tour, we had a full afternoon of free time exploring the various exhibits and the gift shop at the Johnson Space Center.

From here, we bussed to the Houston Toyota Center to watch the Houston Rockets take on the San Antonio Spurs. We stocked up on merchandise and hot dogs before settling down to watch what turned out to be an epic game. The Rockets fell behind quickly, which caused disheartened faces amongst the students and recently purchased giant foam hands to be dropped to the floor.

By the third quarter, however, the Rockets had begun to make a comeback, and the game wrapped up with students out of their seats screaming and cheering, and the Rockets winning by 2 points.

Looking down over the Space Vehicle Mock-Up facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Day 9 - Tuesday 17th December 2019
This morning was spent enjoying a beautiful sunny day with some free time in Hermann Park. After lunch, we headed to The Museum of Health and Medical Science. Here we began by playing games and puzzles in the exhibition area, before heading into the DeBakey Cell Lab. Students cycled through seven different biology-based science experiments including blood testing, examining microbes, cheek cell analysis, and DNA extraction.

Cell biology is a major component of space science as it helps us understand how the human body, pathogens, and even plant growth might respond to the unusual conditions in space. After dinner, we traveled back to the Johnson Space Center to see the Galaxy Lights exhibition. This consisted of another tram tour through the NASA facilities where various light displays had been set up including a screening of a few short films projected onto the side of the Saturn 5 Rocket. We wrapped up the tour with smores and hot chocolate under the Space Shuttle Independence.

Analysing blood samples in the Health and Medical Science Museums DeBakey Cell Lab.

Day 10 - Wednesday 18th December 2019 
Wednesday was the last full day in the US before the long journey back to New Zealand. The day was spent back at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in the hands-on learning area where students completed a shark dissection and built a mini power generator. We had a picnic lunch at the beautiful Cherie Flores Garden, then went back to the hotel before finishing off and presenting the STEM projects we had been working on throughout the week.

Before dinner, we had a presentation from Biologist and NASA Earth Scientist Tom Nolan, who taught us about the various science projects NASA is working on, including using satellites to monitor bushfires. Dinner was a magical Winter Wonderland themed event followed by final graduation from the CASE Space School program that allowed the students to reminisce on the journey of experiential learning they had participated in over the past 2 weeks.

The students have come away from this trip with a wealth of knowledge about the history and future of spaceflight and its importance to the progress of humanity. Many of them have newfound aspirations for various careers within the space science field, while others have solidified an existing passion. We have made new friends, experienced a new culture and participated in STEM activities that were once in a lifetime. 

Dissecting a Spiny Dogfish at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

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