NEW ALBANY – Students at a New Albany middle school had the opportunity to design a science experiment that will be sent into space.
This week, high-ability students from Hazelwood Middle School are participating in the multi-day Go For Launch! program. The experience was presented by Higher Orbits, a non-profit organization focused on STEM education, and included experts in the fields of STEM and space exploration, including Don Thomas, a former astronaut, and Michelle Lucas. , Founder and CEO of Higher Orbits.
Go for the launch! at Hazelwood is in partnership with Purdue University’s Zero Gravity Flight Experiment Program. Through Higher Orbits, students worked with Lucas and Thomas throughout the three-day program on a variety of activities, including designing an experiment that could be tested in space.
A Hazelwood student experiment will be selected for launch to the International Space Station. The program began on Monday, and after students pitch their ideas Wednesday afternoon, a winner will be selected.
Lucas described the Go For Launch! program as an “out-of-the-ordinary science fair”. So far, Higher Orbits has sent 13 student experiments into space, and Hazelwood will be the 14th when it launches later this year or next. As early as Tuesday, the students had proposed science experiments involving studying things such as plants and insects in microgravity.
“It’s something that most of these students have never had access to, and so we’re really excited to be here with students to show them that we’re not trying to turn them all into rocket scientists, but space is such a great way to get them thinking bigger and dreaming bigger,” Lucas said. “Sally Ridge said ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so we want to show them people who have done different things, share our journeys, share our stories and cheer them on if they’re willing to work hard, there’s a lot of possibilities and opportunities up there for them.
Thomas became a mission specialist astronaut in 1990. He flew three times on the shuttle Columbia and once on the Discovery, and he retired from NASA in 2007.
“I spent a total of 44 days in space, and during that time I circled the Earth 692 times,” he said. “So I saw a lot of our planet, and three of my four missions were science-related. We call them space lab – we had a science module, just like the International Space Station modules, where we did different science experiments on how plants grow, how fires burn in space, how liquids behave, then I had another mission where we deployed a big communications satellite from the space shuttle bay, and we use that satellite to talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station.
Lucas worked for 11 years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where she served in International Space Station Mission Control and taught as a technical instructor for astronauts.
“Now I can bring this world and my knowledge, along with an astronaut and other space professionals, to students like these students at Hazelwood Middle School where we talk to them about STEM, leadership, teamwork and communication and encourage them to dream big,” she said.
On Tuesday, Thomas shared memories of his time as an astronaut. He recalled his experience with Neil Armstrong, who came to one of Thomas’ launches.
“He knew my wife would be very nervous on the morning of the launch, and he just wanted to go up to her and say, ‘hi, how are you,'” he said. “Neil Armstrong also met my mother in the VIP area and said hello to her as well. She was a really good person, a good human being.”
Prior to the STS-70 Discovery space shuttle mission in 1995, a spike damaged the space shuttle’s foam insulation, causing the flight to be delayed. Because of this incident, Woody the Woodpecker became the unofficial crew mascot and sparked many jokes within NASA.
“A week before launch a woodpecker came in and started to drill into the soft foam trying to make a nest, and after three or four inches it hit the aluminum below, couldn’t go any further and it was moving a few feet – then another hole and another hole and another hole,” Thomas said. “And that spike ended up making 105 holes in our big fuel tank, so we became known as of peaks crew. Unfortunately, that’s how I’m famous in my life. I’m not famous for anything else, but I’m part of the woodpecker crew.
He includes some fun questions in his presentation, including the fact that he was the first astronaut to take a pizza into space, which happened on the Columbia in 1997.
“It was good,” he said.
Thomas talked about what it was like to be in space, including the absence of gravity.
“When I got into space, I wanted my feet on the ground, because that’s how I used to orient myself, and as soon as I let go, I felt like to levitate upward,” Thomas said. “And I would pull back and put my feet on the ground, and let go, and I just had this feeling that I kept going up. I wasn’t floating up, but just had this feeling.
Landing on Earth, he felt like he weighed “about a thousand pounds”
“My first flight, I was sitting in a seat…so we just landed and I’m sitting in this seat, and I’m just trying to lift my foot off the ground, and I could only lift it an inch or two off the ground, and I thought, what’s going on here, is it stuck in gum or stuck on a cable, and I’m looking at my foot, and nothing is holding it back, but two things happened, firstly my muscles got weaker when i was in space…and the second and probably most important thing is that my brain forgot how strong it was. takes to lift my foot against gravity.
Thomas said after retiring from NASA he wanted to work in education, so he got involved with Higher Orbits.
“It’s really energizing for me,” he said. “You see the sparkle in their eyes, the excitement that they have for space, and it’s the same sparkle and the same excitement that I had as a young boy. So my goal or my dream would be, maybe I can inspire one of the young girls or boys here today to become an astronaut, and maybe they will go on and be the first human to land on Mars in the future. this whole idea of inspiring the next generation.
Hazelwood student Brooks Lozier said it was “really cool that a real astronaut could come to our school and teach us,” and he enjoyed hearing about Lucas’ experience training astronauts. .
“I think it’s a really good experience, and it’s very, very cool,” he said. “Don really taught me not to give up, because he tried (many) times to be an astronaut, and each time he was refused, he tried harder and harder, so I think that ‘it’s very important to try, try, try again. ”
For his group’s experiment, they came up with ideas for getting a horned worm, or a type of caterpillar that turns into a moth, into space, Lozier said.
Jennifer Scott, who teaches the fifth and sixth grade High Ability Curriculum at Hazelwood, said that in her 26 years of teaching, “it’s by far the coolest experience I’ve ever had. participated.” The students were excited to come to class, and they used problem-solving and STEM skills and connected them to real-life activities.
“It’s really captivating for children,” she says.
Thomas answered a variety of questions from the students, including whether or not astronauts’ hearts shrink in space. The answer was yes: heart muscles shrink in the absence of gravity.
“I really appreciate the questions from the students here, and they don’t hold back,” he said. “They had a million questions for me – I think we could just answer questions all day. But they’re really curious about space, and they’re really smart about it. You know, they ask, does heart muscle shrink in space. These are high level questions…these students had some really good pointed questions, and I love hearing them, and I really love sharing the experiences with them.