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A Backyard Full of Rockets
By the thousands, sixth-grade students from throughout Brevard County, Fla., recently descended upon the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The second annual Brevard Space Week was celebrated Nov. 15 - 19, giving every sixth grader in the county a full day to take an up-close look at what many had only seen from their backyards: the wonders of space flight.

Some of the thousands of students attending Brevard Space Week leave the IMAX theater after viewing a 3-D movie. Image at Left: Thousands of participants in Brevard Space Week got the chance to view a 3-D space film about the building of the International Space Station on the five-story-tall IMAX screen. Image credit: NASA

Brevard County has been home to space exploration since the 1960s, so today's sixth graders -- born in 1993 -- could easily feel the Space Program's launches are routine. But during the week-long event, 1,200 students per day were inspired by demonstrations, a 3-D IMAX movie and a veteran astronaut. All of this was devised to show the value of space exploration and inspire them to join in the quest by studying hard and dreaming big.

Astronaut John Blaha spoke to the students attending Brevard Space Week. Image at Right: Veteran astronaut John Blaha answers questions from students in the IMAX Theater. Image credit: NASA

Astronaut John Blaha, a veteran of six Space Shuttle flights and four months aboard the Russian Mir space station, spoke to the students about the importance of their current education as a foundation for anything they choose to do in life.

"Each one of you can contribute to making planet Earth a better place to live in your life," Blaha told the attentive crowd. "If you put the effort in, you can do anything you want to do."

Blaha shared personal experiences of living and working in space, while showing a video of his time aboard Mir in 1996. Later, Damon Talley of Kennedy's Center For Space Education captivated the students with an experiment using liquid nitrogen and a demonstration on the way gyroscopes steer spacecraft.

After learning about the construction of the International Space Station through a 3-D IMAX movie, participants were treated to numerous demonstrations throughout the Shuttle Plaza at the complex. A poster contest with the theme "Return to Flight" brought out the artist in many students, resulting in 170 posters that were displayed during the week.

Students receive a Space Shuttle Return to Flight briefing at the Visitor Complex during Space Week. Other highlights included watching a Brevard County High School robotics team show off its creation, learning how Space Shuttle tile material resists heat, viewing a hydroponics display and hearing a Return to Flight briefing.

Image at Left: Visitor Complex staff presented briefings including updates on the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight. Image credit: NASA

The week is just part of a cooperative space curriculum developed by NASA, Brevard Public Schools and the Visitor Complex to emphasize the importance of math and science through fun space-exploration activities. That's where teacher Trewlaney Wise of Challenger 7 Elementary School in Cocoa sees the value.

"They get excited and they really want to be here. And they are really excited to come back with their parents, because many of them haven't been here before," Wise said. "They talked about (coming here) for months."

A Brevard High School robotics team put a project through its paces. And most will certainly return. All of the students were given certificates to bring their families to the Visitor Complex free of charge so they can play "tour guide" and demonstrate the knowledge they've gained from the program.

Image at Right: With the Visitor Complex's full-size Space Shuttle mock-up behind them, students look on as a Brevard County High School robotics team shows off its creation. Image credit: NASA

Additional program sponsors include the Brevard Schools Foundation, the National Space Club Florida Committee and others representing the community and space industry.

By the end of the week, more than 6,000 students participated in a one-of-a-kind learning experience aimed at inspiring the next generation of scientists and astronauts. And who knows, maybe sometime in the future, one of these students will liftoff aboard a spacecraft from a launch pad just a few miles away.

Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center