Wednesday, 20 November 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

MBAS student’s visit to International Space Camp in Alabama

Petra Fisher, a Year 13 student at Mercury Bay Area School, recently returned from a five-day trip to the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Petra and three other students from New Zealand were selected by the Royal Society Te Apārangi to participate in the camp, which brought together students aged 15 to 18 and educators from all over the world. The aim was to build relationships among those who attended the camp and to challenge themselves as learners in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

During the camp, the students experienced training similar to astronauts and NASA employees. This included simulated missions, building rockets, attending mini science lectures and engaging in teambuilding activities.

One of the activities involved trialling a multi-axis trainer. Designed as a series of cages within cages, it simulates the disorientation a person would feel in a tumble spin during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. “The trainer spun us around randomly in different directions and speeds,” says Petra. “Because your stomach is at the centre of rotation and you don’t spin in the same direction twice in a row, you don’t experience motion sickness, but you do feel disorientated. It was difficult to tell which way was up or which direction you were moving.”

Many of the activities featured a specific theme, such as travelling to the International Space Station or the Moon and were designed to mimic real-life environments. These included mission control, a flight deck and a futuristic Mars base.

“Capsule communicator was my all-time favourite activity,” said Petra. “I was in mission control and was the only person able to talk to those in the capsule/rocket. This is how NASA carries out its own missions. Someone in this position would be a trainee astronaut who is familiar with the other astronauts on the mission and the way they communicate.”

Student accommodation for the camp was provided on location at the US Space & Rocket Centre in Huntsville, which is the largest space and rocket museum in the world.

“At dinner and lunchtimes, there was a buffet which was also centred around the International Space Centre,” says Petra. “This meant that we tried food themed to different countries. Norway night was my all-time favourite.”

A visit to Space Center Houston in Texas was another highlight of the camp. “I loved seeing the Saturn V rocket on display,” says Petra. “This particular rocket was ready for launch in an Apollo 18 mission that was called off. It was enormous and especially impressive at ground level. I also enjoyed seeing the astronaut suits and reading up on NASA’s future plans to travel to the Moon and Mars.”

At the end of the camp, Petra participated in a graduation ceremony underneath the Saturn V rocket. Each student shook the hand of a former astronaut and received an award.

“Connecting with people and talking to them - especially in the space camp setting, where they have the same interests as me - was something I found very engaging and fulfilling,” says Petra. “It was especially fantastic because of the wide array of different cultures and people that were there.”

Pictured: Mercury Bay Area School Year 13 student, Petra Fisher, trying out the multi-axis trainer during her recent trip to the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

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