Space Week Blast Off

By: Todd Martin
Rocket launches, a stargazing party and a visit from a real astronaut are just part of the excitement this week at West Ward Elementary School.

For the 17th year, the school is hosting a dozen or so experts in a variety of science and education fields and will conduct its annual competitive rocket launch and a family science night.

The public is welcome to attend Family Science Night from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, October 26. Astronaut Don Thomas will be on hand and a stargazing party is scheduled with the faculty’s “Starstruck” astronomy club.

With guests expected later in the week, fifth-graders worked alongside teachers Monday to put together the stage sets that will make up a series of Mission to Mars simulations.

After many years of performing scripted Space Shuttle missions docking with the International Space Station, the mission is changing.

Campus technology support specialist Randy Clements, one of many West Ward educators trained at Space Camp, explained to students that this year’s simulated mission is different.

West Ward will be the first school to simulate the Mission to Mars and its performance could be emulated nationwide.

During science class this week, students are building the five components for the simulation with plastic framework and taped paper and boxes to form a mission control, transport supply, excursion vehicle, ascent vehicle and the Orion ship.

Along the way, teachers take advantage of numerous lessons.

“It’s full of teachable moments,” said PE teacher Joe Justice as he began taping boxes for the Mission Control part of the simulation that will eventually fill the school gym. Measuring, figuring dimensions and vocabulary naturally fill the workspace.

Following last year’s Space Week, fourth-graders collaborated with Dan Oates, visiting from Space Camp, to write the script for the new mission. This year, they are the fifth-graders putting it together.

This year’s astronaut guest, Thomas, is a veteran of four Shuttle missions and has 1,040 hours experience in space, according to online biographical information.

Fifth-graders, working to measure, tape and fit together pieces and to prepare background signs, said Space Week is a busy time and a great time to learn.

“I like Space Week because it helps me learn what the planets do,” said fifth-grader Briana Cline. She said the lessons and speakers help her understand concepts like orbiting the sun and make her ask more questions.

“My favorite part is the details,” she said. “How do astronauts get up there? It helps us get more information. There’s science, math, reading and drawing and we all work together.”

In three parts of the school gym, fifth-graders worked with three teachers on separate parts of the simulated mission while another group spelled out the mission on rolled-out paper.

“It gives us passion and empathy,” Cline said, “because we know we can do it together.”