I spent my afternoon taking pictures of kids simulating a space mission, and it was totally awesome.
I should probably admit that I’m kind of a science nerd, and by “kind of,” I mean I pretty much grew up with science. I watched “Bill Nye the Science Guy” videos like everyone else (and met him in an elevator years later … but that’s a story for another day), but I got really lucky in that my school system’s strong point was science. My elementary school had a functioning science lab run by a special science lab teacher. Our local museum of natural history had a science center that partnered with local schools to show free planetarium shows and have professional scientists teach concepts. My freshman year of high school, I spent half the day one semester at the science center and museum learning about topics in biology and earth science — aeronautics, invertebrates, anatomy and physiology, and everything in between — and took Forensic Science and Herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) there my junior year. I even volunteered at forest clean-ups and weekend events through the National Honor Society. Though I decided not to pursue a career in science, I’m still interested in it, especially when it’s presented in a hands-on manner.
Therefore, doing a multimedia project on the 25th anniversary of CASA, the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association, completely captured my interest. Missouri students in sixth through 12th grades (some from as far away as St. Louis) attend an after-school program throughout the year that teaches them about not only aeronautics and space, but also things such as scuba diving. They then devote one week of the school year to simulating a space mission in CASA headquarters, a building outside Hickman High School that formerly housed an auto parts shop.
I was floored by the equipment the students used. One room contained computers, binders and projections of video feeds to make sure the mission was going smoothly. Another room housed a newsroom, where students filmed a newscast with announcements about the mission. One room was completely dedicated to surveillance, with computer screens monitoring video camera feeds. The “Ninja Lair” housed the few who caused problems in the space mission (and was where a boy got his bloody stage makeup done). The “weather room” had a 3-D printer, obtained with the help of grant money. (“My job has been to make things like rocket ships with it all semester,” the boy said as my jaw continued to drop.)
And that’s not including the main room, a large space that houses a recreation of the Mars Rover and Mars terrain, a (no longer functioning) robotic arm and — yes — a spaceship. Inside the spaceship is a main room with computers, a room to house the sick and a room with beds built into walls where students spend the night. And did I mention the constellations on the walls outside the spaceship and the revolving door acting as a shortcut to the rest of the station? Oh, and that this has been entirely created by middle and high school students?
Perhaps what I loved most, though, was the students’ enthusiasm. Each had a task and took it seriously while enjoying the experience — you could tell they were there because they wanted to be and had a vested interest in science. I can’t wait to go back Friday and see what else they have going on.
Because, in the words of my boy Bill Nye, science rules.