Four students tested their talent at balancing a ping-pong ball atop a stream of air blown through a straw during the BEST curriculum kickoff event for the Los Angeles Unified School District's "Beyond the Bell" after-school program. › View Larger Image
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Ready, set – Above, NASA Dryden aerospace education specialist Alexis Harry prepares to drop a "lunar lander" while the student builders watch apprehensively. Below, cheers erupt when the "spacecraft" lands safely with the marshmallow "astronauts" still inside.
› View Larger Image More than 200 elementary and middle school students participated in the recent kickoff of an educational partnership between NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to introduce NASA education materials into the district's Beyond the Bell after-school program.
LAUSD's Beyond the Bell Administrator Tim Bower told the students they were invited to the kickoff because they were the best. He thanked NASA representatives for being there to help introduce the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum into the Beyond the Bell program.
Bower told the students that when they immerse their hands into building a lunar lander later in the day, they would see how much fun the STEM disciplines could be.
In welcoming comments, Alotta Taylor, director of Mission Support and Communications for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Directorate at NASA Headquarters, observed that many of the students attending want to be come astronauts. She noted, however, that NASA needs many people with other professional skills to make the agency work.
"All of us don't have those gifts" to become astronauts, scientists or engineers, she said, pointing out that competency in mathematics is essential in a variety of other professions.
"You can be a business person. We also have people who work in human resources, people that buy things for us in procurement, people who manage our money who are our resources and budget people," Taylor said. "There is something in NASA for all of you."
NASA Dryden center director David McBride asked how many of the students "like to take things apart to see how they work and then try to make them better?" Scores of student hands were raised in response. And when a student asked McBride if he could do his career over again, he replied, "I would do it twice; thanks for asking."
The winners – Alexis Harry holds up the winning design in the "lunar lander" contest before presenting the award to the student builders.› View Larger Image The educational materials are from NASA's Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) program. The program was designed to bring the principles of engineering alive to younger audiences and provides guides that teach students the engineering design process which engineers use to help them solve problems.
After the kickoff, students split up into three groups to build a "lunar lander." With marshmallows as "astronauts" and a cup as the "spacecraft," the children had to build their lander out of common materials such as straws, paper and tape. The landers were going to be dropped from a height of seven feet and the astronauts had to remain inside the cup.
At the end of the event, all the students were brought back to together, and the winners of each group who had successfully dropped their landers from seven feet without losing the marshmallow astronauts were recognized.
NASA Dryden research pilot Mark Pestana demonstrated a helmet and oxygen mask worn by pilots of high-performance aircraft to a student.› View Larger Image Before the winners were announced, NASA engineer Maria Caballero described her job as making sure that the airplanes that are flown at NASA Dryden "are safe so we protect you." She said to always ask questions and imagine solutions.
Her final comment to the students was a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt.
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of the dream," she said. "I hope you guys have great and wonderful dreams, and that I see you at NASA one day."
NASA research pilot Mark Pestana asked for a volunteer student to try on the pilot's helmet he wore when flying a high-altitude airplane. He told the students that it protected his head from hitting the ground when coming down under a parachute after he had to eject out of the plane.
NASA Using a circular fan to blow water vapor, professor Ron Hughes of California State University-Bakersfield demonstrates how concentric-ring vortices with different velocities are created in air to an enthusiastic group of Beyond the Bell students.› View Larger Image Pestana put the helmet on the volunteer as he explained its capabilities to allow him to do his job safely. He pointed out its oxygen mask for high altitudes where air was thin; its own pair of sunglasses to protect his eyes from intense sunlight at high altitudes; earphones to hear communications from flight controllers and a microphone to respond.
The event concluded with winners from the three competing groups vying against each other to win the top award for the group that made the best overall lunar lander. All three groups had received NASA BEST plaques for their successful landings in first, second and third place.
The LAUSD Beyond the Bell program's mission is to ensure that all children and youth in the district have access to high quality, safe and supervised academic, enrichment and recreational programs that inspire learning and achievement outside of the regular classroom environment, both before and after school and on Saturdays.
For more information on LAUSD's Beyond the Bell visit:
For more on NASA's Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology program, visit: