Friday, June 4, 2021

Space Academy for Educators: Day 1 (Summer 2021)


At the end of the school year in fourth grade we began learning about space. We all had to create a project about the planets and some constellations. I was immediately obsessed. Ten-year-old Gretchen walked to the library from her mother's work every week that summer, checking out every book they had on space and adding to my report. By the end of the summer I had a 2" binder filled with facts about the planets, their moons, and a diagram of each of the 88 constellations. The library also put out a new star chart each month that I always grabbed a copy of so I could sit out on the deck and night and find the ones that were visible. My dream was (and still may be) to work for NASA someday.

Space Camp was around when I was a kid, but I never got to go. (I'm told its because I went to hockey camp instead, which was fun too, so I can't complain!) A year or so ago I was browsing the Space Camp page for whatever reason, and found that they offer Space Academy for Educators. Summer camp for adults - I'm sold!! I was so excited for this, I could have cried some seriously happy tears. Okay, maybe I did tear up a bit.

Because I have the patience of a 3-year-old with a chocolate cake in front of them, I searched everywhere for an overview of what the program would look like, and found virtually nothing. So while I'm writing this blog post in part for my own sake, hopefully others who are someday in the same impatient boat I was may come across it and have an idea of what their itinerary could look like!

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 - Check In

I got into town a little after 4 and immediately went to Handel's for ice cream. I had been craving orange cream ice cream for weeks, and couldn't find it anywhere in Clarksville. I knew I would find it there, and wasn't let down!


Then I headed to the University of Alabama - Huntsville where check-in was. We are staying in the dorms there, but they are more like suites than dorm rooms. In the suite is a communal living room/kitchen area with two small hallways off either end of it. On each hallway is two bedrooms, two sinks, a shower, and a toilet/bathroom at the end. I got lucky in that I am only sharing my suite with one other person, and she is on the other hallway, so we each get our own bathrooms!

Swag Bag! Came with a t-shirt, flight suit, water bottle, notebook, and badge holder.




I spent the night chilling in my room, switching between Hulu and reading my book. It was storming something brutal outside, but it was so hot in my room that I opened the window. If I weren't in a dorm room, I could have sworn the heat was on.

Thursday, June 3, 2021 - Day 1

I woke up around 5:30, before my alarm, and showered and got ready for the day. Our shuttle left at 7:15 to take us to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for breakfast. It was cafeteria style, and you went through the line telling the workers what you wanted. Options were star-shaped hashbrowns, eggs, biscuits & gravy, waffles, sausage, and chicken, as well as packaged Cheerios and Golden Grahams. We chilled at breakfast for an hour before walking over to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration for a weirdly brief tour. 

Model of the Space Launch System that will be used for the next moon mission within the next year


As we were leaving the Center, we ran into a bunch of Suits. We found out that one was an Alabama senator. He asked if anyone was from the area, and when no one was he promptly moved on. Lee Greenwood was with him though, and he stopped and chatted for a bit! If I still lived in Alabama, Lee Greenwood would have my vote! 

Lee Greenwood

From there, we headed to the Education Center. I have to say that by this point we were all losing our minds because we didn't have a schedule. It was about 9:30 and no one knew what was happening, and as a group of educators, we were not having it! Finally, someone asked one of the crew leaders and took a picture of each days' schedule and added it to our PhotoCircle so we all had a copy. We settled down a bit after that.

There are ~24 of us, and we are split into two teams, "Columbus" and "Destiny." I am on Team Destiny. We do a lot of things together, but then also split into our teams to complete other missions and challenges. We began by splitting into our teams and beginning to design our mission patch. 

From there, we went into the small auditorium next door to learn about the different positions for the missions we would be completing this week, and had to rank the positions we wanted and determine the skills we would like to use, and which skills we are not so brave with.

Then, we went back to the main room for lunch where we were served a sandwich, chips, pasta salad, and a cookie. A man named Matt Massey spoke to us about a state school he just started this year here in Huntsville called the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering and it is AWESOME. They just had their first cohort of 70 freshman/sophomores start this year and they are completely focused on engineering and cybertechnology. For example, all their history courses are through some sort of engineering/cyber lens. It was really fascinating to hear about.


After lunch, we broke back into our teams and worked on our first engineering task - Thermal Design Challenge: Ablative Shielding. The background was about how when spacecrafts re-enter Earth's atmosphere, it enters at roughly 17,500 MPH, compressing the air in front of it and causing it to heat up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers need to make sure the shuttle stays in tact, so they use silicon tiles as a thermal protection system. Our task was to use given materials to create a TPS that protected our egg-stronaut from the heat of a blow torch, and it had to be 1/4 inch or less in thickness. My team named our egg Dora the Eggsplorer and we layered the following materials to build our shield: aluminum foil, aluminum mesh, spackle, cork, copper mesh, aluminum foil. We choose items with high melting points, and the spackle because it is made of silicone. The goal was to keep the blow torch pointed at the shield/egg for three minutes without it burning through/melting the sheild and cooking or scorching the egg. All of the teams successfully completed the challenge!






We then had a bit of a break before our next activity, which was listening to speaker Kenny Mitchell, a NASA employee for 60 years! He has worked on projects involving the Saturn rockets, Boeing, Skylab and Spacelab, the 25KW Space Platform, the International Space Station - part of the time in Russia as a NASA Diplomat, and the Discovery/New Frontiers Program, and is now a NASA Consultant working on different tasks. He had a lot to share, and probably could have went on even longer than the 80 minutes he was given. He autographed books for us all, so I am excited to read that!


We then rushed off back to the dining hall for a very bland dinner. Options were chicken or beef (on a bun, if you would like), broccoli, rice, and salad. I did track down some ice cream at least! It was NOT GOOD. Thankfully we went to the National Geographic Theater right after where we were able to get some popcorn. We knew then and there we would probably need to go get some food afterwards. At the theater we watched a brief movie about Wernher van Braun and the development of rocket technology, then a longer one featuring astronauts from the International Space Station. That one was pretty neat. They had a lot of images and videos from the ISS, and the astronauts all talked about what it was like to be up there. It really made me think I made the wrong career choice!!



Finally, we headed back to the dorms at about 7. A couple girls and I made a Publix run because we were so hungry after our lack-of-proper-dinner. Megan really wanted Krystal, and neither Tiffany nor I had ever had Krystal before, so she bought a 24-pack and we brought it back to share with her roommates. Not as "good" as White Castle was my conclusion! (And yes, I use the term "good" very loosely). 

Our next engineering design challenge! #STEMTeachers


Oh! And I found out we have AC! And I was right, the thermostat was set to heat!! It is now a comfortable 72 degrees, and I don't have to sleep with my first floor window open!!

Stayed tuned for Day 2 adventures!

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