This article is about Middle School and science. Think back. Do you remember anything really frustrating about Middle School? I do. There was no science in my school. By seventh grade it was clear to me, science was interesting. I could not get enough. Astronomy, chemistry, earth science, and geography were, and still are, my favorites. We did not have any laboratories in Saint Aidan’s Catholic School for girls. We wore uniforms, celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day, and smoked occasionally. Ah, seventh grade. Anyway, even smoking made me curious. I tried to figure out why cigarettes stayed lit no matter what the weather. What was it about cigarettes that accelerated the fire? I knew drawing on the cigarette was a different problem than solving for the question of what accelerated the fire while the cigarette stayed in the ash tray.
So back to seventh grade, I loved science. I drew a car that could navigate to its destination. I drew another car that could fly, and that was pre-Jetson’s- lots of people did that. But I never considered any of this worthy of discussion. I was a girl in the late fifties, we did not talk about science. It was frustrating. And I am sure it explains my passion to provide access to space for all students. The sciences and engineering skills necessary to build experiments to go to space encompass so many different academic subjects, it’s just right for someone with curiosity.
I am now less frustrated, and more purposeful. I want students to get the chance to learn about space science now that we have Spaceport America. Here we have opportunity; we can send middle school experiments to space. And that’s just what will happen on April 1, 2011. The date is not lost on me. Every experiment we fly will work. There will be no foolish experiments flying just because it’s middle school.
I made that promise to myself and all the people who are working on this project with us. We will only fly experiments that will give students and teachers information, or in the science and engineering world- the all important DATA. We are going to learn.
I will focus on one experiment, although twenty two experiments will fly. Students from Central Elementary School in Artesia want to learn about Earnshaw’s Theorum. Without going overboard here, think about playing with magnets. Put four magnets in the shape of a square, a fifth magnet in the middle and start moving the middle magnet. The theorem predicts the magnetic behavior on earth will be different possibly than behavior during launch and re-entry. The students will use a type of magnetic material, pyrolytic graphite, and want to see if microgravity changes the behavior of the magnets and graphite. The students will film the behavior and measure it against their predictions.
My organization, through funding from NASA, is paying for the cost of the launch. We also trained the teachers this summer, and we are buying the materials for all school experiments. You can go to our website, www.launchnm.com to look at the entire list of experiments from schools across New Mexico, El Paso, and Tucson, Arizona.
Let’s talk a minute about the cameras. They must film at a very fast rate, in low and uneven light conditions during the twenty five Gs of launch, and microgravity of descent. Descent can take up to fifteen minutes, during which time the experiments will experience microgravity, that floating you see astronauts do in space. It is during this period, students also want to see how the graphite behaves.
We encountered a problem with the camera batteries. It was determined, the battery life may not be long enough should we encounter any launch delays. Rats. We have six cameras filming experiments on the rocket. Our commitment, we will only fly experiments we know will give students and teachers information. So, we replaced all six cameras.
People from Spaceport America, NMSU, and volunteers including Jim Hayhoe, Bruce and Kathy Lewis, Bill Gutman, Wayne Savage, Gene Gant, folks at NASA White Sands Test Facility and White Sands Missile Range, Judy McShannon in particular on my staff, will make this a launch to remember. I will write more about this launch in my next article.
You are invited to join us on April 1. Busses leave at 3am, from the K-Mart parking lot on Highway 70 in Las Cruces. Thos cost is $45 for the bus ride. For more information call my office, 575-646-6414.