SANTA AT NASA

13 July
Today our Space Expedition comes to an end and we commence our long journey home. 
 
We reflect on the extraordinary experience that this has been and today we give thanks to all who have made it possible – our parents, teachers and camp leaders. 
 
All A40 Expedition Crew had a safe touch down Sunday morning – all crew now reunited with their families. 
 
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. 
It matters that you don’t just give up.”
 
– Stephen Hawking
 

 
12 July
What better way to learn about the science of spaceflight and Newton’s Laws than by astronauts on the ISS, microgravity being the perfect environment to demonstrate the laws. This is how our last full day at space camp began.
 
This set the scene for Astrobound. This activity engaged us in a space mission that introduced the engineering challenges of mass, power, scientific payload and financial considerations involved in spaceflight. 
 
We then sharpened our coordination snd critical thinking and decision making skills with the physical challenge presentef by the rock climbing wall. 
 
We were fortunate to have another inspiring speaker – NASA Astronaut – Dottie Metcalf Lindenburger. She shared with us how her interest in space was sparked when she was a young teen who flew to Huntsville Alabama to attend space camp during her school vacation in 1990. After that week, she knew that someday she wanted to work for the space program. It was exactly 20 years later during the same month that she took her first journey to space. Her message to us was to have the courage to take risks and follow our dreams. 
 
We were eager to launch our rockets today but those dark thunder clouds that typically move in each afternoon did just that. So unfortunately another electric storm lockdown was called and we lost our last opportunity to launch! Just like a real launch the conditions must be perfect. 
 
Disappointment about our missed opportunity to launch our rockets did not last long as today was also our Orion mission day. We each excitedly took on our mission roles and began the challenge of sending crew to the moon to join other astronauts who are now stationed there using the new Space Launch System. This result was another sussessful mission with crew safely touching down on the moon, completing a moon walk and returning safely to Earth. We definitely have some potential astronauts and mission control specialists amongst the A40 team! 
 
Our final activity on space camp was definitely one we will remember. It involved us working in groups to design, construct and test a thermal protection shield. We discussed the different types of thermal shields and how important these are to ensure crew return to Earth safely. We were provided with various material and then our instructor tested our shields using propane torch with intense heat to see if our ‘astronaut’ survives. One of our teams shield was so well designed that it survived the test when many had to go back to the drawing board with their designs. 
 
Finally the event that we were all waiting for: our graduation from space camp! 
 
We were each presented with our certificates and team awards for outstanding commitment to the program. The A40 team won first prize for their mission patch design and statement. A very proud moment for all. It was a great way to celebrate what was a sensational  week at space camp. 
 
11 July
If being immersed in “space” is your passion then Space and Rocket Center is definitely the place to be. 
 
We began another sensational day by learning how the International Space Station was developed and constructed through international cooperation and how this collaboration between nations is vital for future exploration.
 
Yet another sunny day invited us outside for the outdoor simulators – “Space Shot”  and “G-Force Accelerator”. These were followed by an outdoor activity “Low Elements” that focused on working as a team and building problem-solving skills by allowing us to apply the “teen habits’ learnt in Houston – the habit “synergize” was definitely one that was drawn on to achieve these outdoor missions. 
 
The hot summer weather meant our afternoon activity was one that was very welcomed he Octo-ACCESS: a water activity designed to help us understand the concept of neutral buoyancy and to promote teamwork and communication skills. It was also an opportunity for a refreshing swim in a nearby lake. 
 
Simulated missions proved to be a favourite activity on this camp – following from our successful Space Shuttle mission yesterday, today we eagerly began preparations for the next mission – The Orion Mission. Using the new Space Launch System along with the Orion Capsule – the next step in NASA’s plan for space exploration. With a focus back to the moon, then to Mars and beyond. We all enjoyed the practice session and are all looking forward to this mission tomorrow. 
 
This was followed by a scientific investigation into spacesuits. After learning a brief history of spacesuits and current developments in spacesuit technology we tested gloves made of different materials by putting them through challenges which included testing for temperature and radiation tolerance. 
 
With our rockets constructed and ready to launch we set off to the launch site quite a distance away from the main centre. With thunderstorm clouds approaching in the distance it was a race against time as the change in the weather could prevent our launch from going ahead. As we arrived with rockets in hand a call was received that lightning in the area meant our launch was cancelled for today. With disappointment, we returned to base with the hope of being able to launch tomorrow. 
 
We finished a busy day with a trivia night and then off to bed to re-energise for what is certain to be another terrific day tomorrow. Many staff members commented on how impressed they were with the mission patch the students created and their explanation of what each component represents. This has been included in today’s blog. 
 

 

10 July
Another warm sunny day welcomes us at The US Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville Alabama!

After our early morning health and wellness session which included some wake up stretches. We were ready for our astronomy show where we learnt about stars and their evolution. In teams, we then explored how our knowledge of the universe has increased through the use of both earth and space based observations. Our morning IMAX show also reminded us to remember to “Dream Big”.

It was then time for some space simulation. First, we began with the MMU – the Manned Maneuvering Unit. This is an astronaut propulsion unit used by NASA on some space shuttle missions, allowing the astronauts to perform untethered space walks from a distance from the shuttle. 

The second simulator was the all-fearing MAT– the Multi-axis Trainer. This simulator consists of rotating metal rings to train astronauts in case a space capsule spins out of control. There were many brave students who were up for the challenge! 

After an Italian lunch – each meal at the Center is inspired by a different nation – the time had arrived for the mission we had been preparing the day before. We were all ready and confident in our roles to make sure our virtual space shuttle completed its mission and landed safely. After a tense hour the mission control team were congratulated for guiding the crew back to earth safely and for their problem solving when unexpected anomalies would appear on their consoles! Great team effort! 

The mission patch was completed today as were the rockets – with parachutes attached so that tomorrow we can launch and safely return. 

Another sensational day came to an end but not before a few games to get to know our fellow space campers and some group challenges. Some dancing led by our space camp leader Priscilla was thrown in – she taught us some awesome moves. 

9 July
Our first day at The US Space and Rocket Centre began with a leadership activity and an introduction to commercial space flight. This presentation is designed to inspire students to become the innovators of commercial space flight in the future. 

Today we focused on the stories of both the manned and unmanned Mercury and Gemini spaceflight programs as well as the Apollo Mission history. This included moon walk simulation. This was followed by a hands-on challenge that explores space weather. In this challenge we investigated the magnetic fields of the earth and sun. Then applied what we learnt by building a magnetic shield. 

A week at The US Space and Rocket Centre would not be complete without designing and constructing our own rocket. This engineering challenge began today. We focused on rocket design that is capable of launch. Later in the week our rockets will be launched and the height of their flight will be calculated so watch this space for an update about our successful launch! 

The Alpha Mission practice sessions began today. We were each assigned a mission role, such as flight commander, flight director, engineer, or mission control to name a few. Our supervisors commented on our collaborative teamwork during our mission training session – we are looking forward to the mission tomorrow.

Every mission, as all NASA missions from the very first Gemini program to current ISS expeditions have their own unique mission patch, so today we began creating our mission patch that represents us as a crew. 

8 July 
We departed from Houston before dawn for an early flight to Nashville Tennessee only to find the flight was delayed four hours! 

After a lengthy airport wait we boarded our South West aeroplane and arrived safely to a waiting coach in Nashville for our road trip to Huntsville Alabama- Rocket City. 

En route we stopped for food at The Golden Coral – buffet-style restaurant with typical southern American style food such as fried chicken, cornbread, smoked pulled pork, key lime and blueberry pie.

Two hours into our road trip the sight of rockets reaching for the sky was a clear sign we were approaching the US Space & Rocket Centre at Huntsville Alabama and Space Camp. 

The US Space & Rocket Center® (USSRC) is the official NASA Visitor Information Center for the Marshall Space Flight Center. Exhibits include the world’s only full-scale space transportation system display (space shuttle) including an external tank, a set of twin solid rocket boosters and the development test article Shuttle Orbiter, Pathfinder; as well as the national historic landmark Saturn V moon rocket. 

As we drove in the student “habitat” lay before us in the shadow of the massive Pathfinder Spaceship and its rockets. 

After registration and a cafeteria-style dinner we prepared for bed with the thought of beginning an exciting space camp program in the morning.

 

7 July
After a longer sleep in due to last night’s MLB game we were welcomed this morning by 200 additional students from schools across Australia who arrived from Huntsville for tonight’s Gala Dinner with astronaut Nicole Stott. 

We began our last full day in Houston by listening to our peers discuss their thoughts and feelings about space school during expression zone time. Our group managers, Gabby and Giulia led a discussion about the final habit which was “sharpening the saw”. We had an engaging discussion and worked in small groups talking about the different topics before heading off for a delicious breakfast.

We began today’s official activities by visiting William Marsh Rice University, commonly known as Rice University – a distinguished private research university with a creative interdisciplinary approach to education.

We were given a guided tour by a sophomore student named Romi who is studying biochemistry and medical science and is clearly passionate about her studies and university life. She showed us around the 122-hectare campus. We visited many learning hubs, the gym, the sporting stadium and the on-campus living buildings. The university also had a special piece of the Berlin Wall.

Rice University was also the location where President John F  Kennedy Made his 12 November 1962 speech about the Space Effort. This included his famous words, “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard”.

From here we then headed to Bodega Taco for some absolutely delicious Mexican food.

After lunch we visited the Museum of Medical Sciences for our interactive Cell Lab session. We were greeted by Dr Eloise Pinckney and some amazing students who helped us during the sessions. We extracted DNA and prepared a number of cell sample slides. We were then given the opportunity to explore the exhibits throughout the museum and see as much as we could. These included a giant model of a pulsing heart, a colon we could crawl through as well as many other interactive exhibits on the human body.

We arrived back at the Royal Sonesta Hotel and changed into our formal attire, for our gala dinner. We then presented our research STEM expert work to our peers. Everyone had really interesting topics and information to discuss.

At our gala dinner, we met Nicole Stott. It really was an honour to meet a NASA astronaut and her words to us were very inspiring. Her message was to believe in yourself and seize all opportunities that may come our way. She spoke to us about her journey to become a mission specialist flight engineer on the ISS. She participated in a spacewalk on this mission and became the last expedition crew-member to return to earth via the space shuttle. She spent quite some time engaging with the students and answering many interesting and challenging questions.

We had the opportunity to have a photo with her and give her some “Australian” gifts and she shook our hands and gave us a word of thanks.

6 July
We woke up on day four of Space School to sunny skies, a good sign for the busy day ahead. Arriving downstairs before breakfast, we took part in our daily dancing activity to get us moving. Today’s routine involved some energetic cheerleading choreography!

After breakfast we assembled in our group room to listen to some more individual Expression Zone presentations and also continued with our “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” group presentations. Three groups spoke about the habits Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood and Synergise.

We then headed back to the expansive Johnson Space Centre to continue to explore the exhibits and see as much as possible. We first attended a very engaging Space Centre presentation given by astronaut Brian Duffy. He is a retired US Air Force colonel and a veteran of four space flights who spoke of his missions to the International Space Station. Alongside a highly trained crew, he has assisted with its construction, adding new components each time in space. Brian displayed some remarkable footage of a mission launch, the activities and tasks conducted by the astronauts in space and even some breathtaking photos taken of earth from the ISS – he certainly knows our home planet very well after spending 49 days and 17 hours looking down on it!

After lunch, we hopped on a tram for a tour of the campus, continuing on from our visit on Wednesday. This time, we travelled to the original Apollo Mission Control Centre which was operated in the 1960s, from which all historic communication with Apollo astronauts occurred. We could see the control room through the glass from the VIP viewing box, which was a section reserved for invited guests to watch the mission control live. The centre, which is still fitted with some of the original computers used, received the famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” alongside all other communication for the Apollo missions. We then headed to Rocket Park, in which, among other rockets, the Saturn V is on display – the huge rocket used in the Apollo space missions to the moon. It was very exciting to be so close to the rockets and read about each of the Apollo moon missions.

We also had the opportunity to visit the NASA gift shop before travelling to the next highly anticipated event – a Major League Baseball game at Minute Maid Park! Commencing after dinner, we were intrigued and excited by the electric atmosphere and it certainly was an authentic American experience! The Houston Astros were playing the Chicago White Sox and whilst many of us didn’t have much of an understanding of the game, we enjoyed watching all the same. Unfortunately, we had to leave early before the crowds but we later discovered that the Houston Astros won!

We had a very busy but very enjoyable day and are looking forward to our final full day in Houston.

5 July
To start off our third full day here at CASE space school in Houston, Texas we came together as group A40 to engage in some upbeat dancing to spark positive attitudes in everyone. We then listened to some of our peers’ speeches, about themselves and their feelings surrounding space school during expression zone, before heading to breakfast.

 
After breakfast, two of the small teams in our group presented their poster on one of the seven habits of highly effective teens. Then Gabi and Giulia, our group managers, taught us about the next habit, think win-win. We discussed scenarios in pairs and then as a group.
 
We then travelled to the Museum of Natural Sciences, where we had previously attended tours of the Weiss Energy Hall and created our own hydro turbines. Here, we explored on our own for 30 minutes before splitting into our AGSA groups to participate in a hands-on shark dissection.
 
We dissected a species of shark called the spiny dog fish shark, observing its organs and anatomy. We learnt all about how the sharks’ physical and behavioural adaptations allow them to live in their underwater habitat, and how they differ from other shark species. Our group even found two baby sharks inside our specimen, and extracted them to observe.
 
Overall, the experience was very interesting, and everyone enjoyed it.
 
In the afternoon, we travelled to Memorial city mall to do some shopping. Everyone was very eager to buy from retailers only available in America, such as American Target, Bath and Body Works and many more. Hershey’s chocolate and Reese’s peanut butter cups were a popular choice, with the cashier at Target “Lil Flip” remarking that we had nearly bought out the entire stores’ Reese’s cups stock.
 
After a long day of sharks and shopping, we returned to the Royal Sonesta hotel for a delicious dinner, before gathering to listen to the night’s guest speaker, Elizabeth Blome.
 
Elizabeth spoke to all the students at CASE space school about her journey to working at NASA training astronauts for their various missions. She answered our questions about the International Space Station and Engineering among other topics. Overall, her words were very insightful and we all left feeling even more curious about jobs at NASA and other space agencies and companies.
 
Today was a very busy day, were we got to learn about a number of subjects including the seven habits, sharks, various exhibits at the museum and jobs at NASA. It was very enjoyable and everyone agrees that they were enlightened by today’s activities.

 

4 July
Happy Independence Day! 

We began the day with an energising dance routine to prepare us for the day, then we did our first expressions session which is where individual girls shared some of their experiences and we reflected on three of the “7 habits of highly effective teens” – Being Proactive, Begin with the end in mind and Put first things first.

 We then began watching a movie called Space Race which follows the tight competition between the Soviet Union and the US to put the first man on the moon. 

Today we went to NASA’s Johnson Space Centre. Despite torrential rains we excitedly made our way to the Centre. First we visited the Boeing 747 with the Enterprise Space Shuttle attached on its back. We were then allocated a spacecraft to research and with this in mind we explored the Space Centre and gathered our information, which included an audio tour and we got to touch a 3.8 billion-year-old moon rock!  After researching we had an American lunch at the cafeteria and then we went on a tram tour to the vehicle mock-up facility and had a skywalk to see all the different types of spacecrafts and space exploration robots.  

Once arriving back at the hotel We were welcomed to a American decorated Ballroom for the Independence Day BBQ dinner. The food was delicious and made us all feel part of the culture. There was a photo booth there too and we had lots of fun taking many photos in American themed costumes. After working on our projects a bit more we reflected on another amazing day and went off to bed, waiting in anticipation for our Biological Sciences day tomorrow at The Cell lab and the shark dissection. 

3 July
Today was our first full day at the NASA CASE Space Camp. We began the day by attending the opening ceremony. Here we were introduced to our activities for the week. These included attending the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Johnson Space Centre, Rice University and cultural activities like the Major League Baseball. 

Soon after, we caught the bus to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We stood in awe of all the incredible exhibits and were ushered to the downstairs classrooms. In these classrooms we completed a workshop about renewable energy. We were taught about the several forms of energy and were showed how they worked through scientific models. Then, we were given our own materials and created a hydroelectric turbine. This was a very fun and exciting workshop and it was a great start on what was to come; The Wiess Energy Hall. This museum exhibit was extremely detailed and certainly taught us a lot about extracting oil from the Earth. We learnt about different drill processes, drill types and the effect of tectonic plates. We were also able to experience a simulation of going down into the drilling hole and finding oil. 

When we got back to the hotel, we had a CASE components lesson in which we learnt about the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.” We only focused on the first two of these habits today and were able to draw on personal experiences to understand and develop these new habits. 

The main highlight of the day was our guest speaker, Thomas Nolan. He works in the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA and is working in the field of marine biology. He was a very entertaining speaker who gave us lots of advice and encouraged us to keep on persevering through everything. He talked to us about climate change and its severe impacts and also discussed how he is able to see Earth through satellite imagery. Thomas Nolan was a motivating speaker and it inspired all of us to explore and take up every opportunity that we get. 

To conclude the day we were given personal reflection time to discuss our day’s events. So far, this trip has been incredible and I can’t wait for tomorrow! 

2 July
After a very long journey the Santa NASA crew have arrived at Houston.

We were welcomed over dinner at the Royal Sonesra Hotel in Houston and are now off to get some much-needed sleep for our first full day of NASA activities and exploration tomorrow. 

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