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Arizona Seventh Graders Simulated Life-Saving Decisions During Volcano Exercise

By Beth Hagenauer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

"How many people did we lose?" asked seventh-grader Jeremy Scheneck, of mission control commander VanKirk, during a simulated volcanic eruption exercise at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on May 5. The enthusiastic students from Flagstaff Middle School, Ariz., cheered upon hearing the response "All lives were saved!"

Not a typical school day for the students who visited Dryden at Edwards Air Force Base in California May 4 and 5 as an education outreach of the NASA Explorer Schools program. Flagstaff Middle School is one of 50 schools selected in 2003 by NASA as partners to bring exciting opportunities to educators and students alike.

Students pilot an F-15 simulator
Flagstaff Middle School seventh-graders find piloting an F-15 aircraft simulator challenging. NASA photo by Tom Tschida.

The Earth Science mission was a live operational challenge led by a commander based at Wheeling Jesuit College, Wheeling, W. Va. The students were in visual and audio communication with the commander during the execution of the mission that involved a small Caribbean island experiencing a volcanic eruption.

The students also had an opportunity to fly one of NASA's aircraft simulators which proved a challenge for some. Not for Rick Bigler, who said he was surprised that he was better at the controls of the F-15 simulator than he thought he would be. Asked if he was prepared to fly the simulator, Bigler responded that he studied pitch, yaw and roll at school.

NASA Airborne Science mission manager Walter Klein shared his experience of flying through hurricanes on NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory. Klein told the group about the aircraft's eight flights studying hurricanes during the last 10 years. "It sounds crazy, but it is a great ride," said Klein. Seventh-grader Jose Castruita thought that NASA only flew in the U.S., before Klein revealed the global nature of the work.

Students pilot an F-15 simulator
Flagstaff Middle School students taste tube-food like that eaten by pilots flying NASA's ER-2 high-altitude aircraft. NASA photo by Tom Tschida.

Lockheed life support technician Jim Sokolik offered tastes of the tube food eaten by pilots during ER-2 aircraft's high-altitude, long-duration missions. Student Alex Kuefler found the taste of chocolate pudding interesting, but he preferred not to describe it. ER-2 pilot Dave Wright told the students that the ER-2 was a very physical plane to fly and that a pilot needs great upper body strength.

The group of more than 50 students, tired but inspired, headed back to Arizona by bus with a better grasp of NASA and the agency's future occupational needs. From machine shops to control rooms to historians, public affairs specialists and educators, the Flagstaff students learned that NASA has a place for each.

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