Training Our Future Astronauts
By: Jordan Bryan
, LARSS intern
Ron Shaneyfelt called "heads up" and scanned the sky.
After approving the rocket's pathway, the students began a countdown from
five. After "one," all the students yelled, "blast off!" and watched the
rocket soar into the sky.
Shaneyfelt, an informal educator who went by "Rocket Man," led 22 students
on a rocket-building and launching exercise.
"With this project, the students have the opportunity to build and launch
their rocket within hours," Shaneyfelt said.
After the rockets were built and the glue dried, the students, who were
addressed as "rocketeers," went out to the lawn to launch the rockets one at
a time at Thomas Nelson Community College's Williamsburg campus.
The rockets soared to about 200 to 300 feet and then fell back to land with
Kenneth, 10, described his rocket launch: "It went high, it could have
almost got stuck in a tree."
The rocketeers got to build something and watch it fly.
Launching rockets was part of a day's activities for one of the camps held
August 1-5. NASA Langley's informal education team worked with children from
Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.
For the second year, NASA Langley's Summer of Innovation program aims to
give underrepresented students a chance to be involved with content
otherwise not accessible.
The Summer of Innovation is an agency-wide program, with each center
reaching 1,500 students. The camps work with rising fourth through ninth
graders for a minimum of 20 hours of instruction, as well as follow-up
NASA Langley partners with the Virginia Air and Space Center, Big Brothers/
Big Sisters and the Migratory Education Program throughout the year.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters program allows for a mentor or "big brother" for
"The informal education team provides hands-on activities," said Ivelisse
Gilman, a NASA educator. "These activities help the children learn by
The camps were themed as a "mission to Mars," and the students were treated
as astronauts in training. The informal educators hope to excite the
children to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering
or math (STEM).
"This group is the right age to be the next astronauts to Mars, so we are
training them to become future astronauts," said Bonnie Murray, a NASA
NASA has refined its approach for the Summer of Innovation in 2011 to facilitate the alignment of summer and extended learning programming with the formal education community by aligning summer content offerings with the local needs of schools and providing sustained professional development to certified educators in support of more effective content delivery.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Summer of Innovation:
The students were taught about rocketry, sustainability, arrangement of
planets, characteristics of living off Earth and protection of astronauts in
space. Many activities were hands-on.
They could build their own solar oven, which aimed to show the students that
survival strategies would be different than the microwave available here on
Earth. They were supplied materials and urged to think like an engineer
while trying to make a working oven. If the oven captured the solar energy,
the reward was sweet. They were able to enjoy a s’more snack.
Kiersten, 10, said her favorite part of the weeklong camp was making her own
solar oven and then cooking her s'more.
A highlight of this year’s camps was students getting to ask questions and
virtually touring the "rock yard" with the astronauts in training at Johnson
Space Center. The astronauts connected with the students via the technology
ClearSea, which allowed them to connect to the Digital Learning Network
using a cell phone.
"They learn about topics they will experience in school," Murray said. "Our
hope is that as they do exciting hands-on activities, that they can really
understand Newton’s law or other lessons. When they get back into the
classroom, their experience will help make sense of the information."
According to Gilman, it's also important that, "their experience was a
positive, fun one."
At the end of a camp, students have a new curiosity.
"The questions they start to ask as time goes on is amazing," Murray said.
"They are starting to wonder more and more."
Summer of Innovation will continue to reach students throughout the month of
August and will conduct follow-ups. They hope to spark a lifelong
fascination in STEM.
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman