Image above: Dr. LaNetra C. Tate, center, materials engineer at Kennedy Space Center, is surrounded by students as she welcomes them for their tour of the Space Life Sciences Lab facilities. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann ›View larger image
Image above: Dr. Ray Wheeler explains a plant growth chamber to students in the Life Support and Habitation Systems Lab at the Space Life Sciences Lab facility. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann ›View larger image
Image above: Students view a demonstration by Dr. James Fesmire inside the cryogenics lab in the Operations and Checkout Building. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann ›View larger imageWhile the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is recognized worldwide as NASA's launch center, a group of high school students recently learned that there's more to the center than just launching rockets. Twenty-six honor students in chemistry and biology and their teachers got a chance to visit some high-tech labs at Kennedy as part of an effort to encourage students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. "In addition to our launch and landing operations, we also do research and development, engineering development, science and technology," said NASA materials engineer Dr. LaNetra C. Tate during her welcome address to the group. The tenth- and eleventh-grade students from Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville, Fla., visited a number of vastly different labs during their one-day tour. First stop was the Space Life Sciences Lab facility where they visited labs specializing in granular physics and regolith operations, electrostatic and surface physics, and life support and habitat systems. Located in Exploration Park just outside the gates at Kennedy, the Space Life Sciences Lab was developed in a cooperative effort between NASA, Space Florida and the State of Florida. Experiments from these labs have flown aboard the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Inside the Electrostatics and Surface Physics Lab, Dr. Carlos Calle demonstrated a process for keeping spacecraft, equipment and even spacesuits free of dust when exploring dusty surfaces like those found on the moon or Mars. While in the Granular Physics and Regolith Operations Lab, Dr. Phil Metzger explained their work, including how they use simulants to replicate lunar dust in their experiments. During the students' tour of the Life Support and Habitation Systems Lab, Dr. Phil Metzger demonstrated some research for long-duration space travel. "One of the approaches we've been looking at is growing plants," he said, explaining that plants are not just for food, but that they also use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen -- a process that could be beneficial inside a spacecraft. "We also look at waste recycling, both for solid and wastewater systems, because you're going to have to recycle all those things. You have to think about living in a very tightly closed environment," he added. The students then moved inside the gates at Kennedy to the Operations and Checkout building. Known as the O&C, the building continues to play an integral part in present and future space exploration as it has since the 1960s, housing many facilities over the years including the astronaut crew quarters. The students' visit to the facility encompassed demonstrations in the applied physics and cryogenics labs, as well as a walk-through of the prototype lab. The group's visit was hosted by the Kennedy Education Office as part of a nationwide effort by the National Lab Network to help introduce the country's students to careers in the STEM fields. "We believe we can make a stronger impact and inspire students by involving them in activities as an extension of their classroom," said Beth B. Smith, informal education specialist.