Many children dream of going to space once they grow up. In the meantime, Alamogordo middle and high school students experienced the next best thing by meeting NASA astronauts in-person and live from the International Space Station.
Teams from six Alamogordo schools got the chance to ask astronaut Scott Tingle questions as part of NASA’s In-flight Education Downlink program. NASA chose the New Mexico Museum of Space History, together with the Alamogordo Public School District and New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to host the event, one of 14 organizations chosen across the country.
Former NASA astronaut and El Paso native Dr. Danny Olivas visited the high school to speak about his own experiences onboard the space station. Olivas said he was impressed to see students excited to learn about space and asking relevant questions, like how iPads work in a low-gravity environment.
“Fortunately, something like an iPad, obviously the technology is such that it actually makes itself very conducive for working on the ISS,” Olivas said. “But not everything does and those are the kinds of questions that students should be asking, like what would be different about working or doing this in space and that’s actually a lot of what drives a lot of the science that we create at NASA.”
Students have been working to design and build small payload projects to understand how similar experiments are conducted onboard the International Space Station. Olivas said education in STEM fields is the key to future success.
“We obviously try to encourage STEM. It’s not the only field that’s out there, but certainly having an appreciation and even a level of understanding of STEM-related issues and STEM-related technology is important for their future and for their well-being,” Olivas said.
Alamogordo High School science teacher John Boyd and two of his classes participated in the program. They created experiments to test how space affects properties like density and if materials like flour, sand, and sugar react differently than on Earth. Through these projects, Boyd said he hopes his students get an idea of what it’s like to work in outer space.
“We haven’t talked about this yet but we’re going to go on a big unit about space flight and what you have to do to fly in space,” Boyd said. “You know if we want to go to Mars, there’s a lot of things that have to happen first and I want to make sure they understand that.”
The students based their questions for Tingle on what they’ve learned during the project. Senior Erik Severtson is in Mr. Boyd’s astronomy class. Severtson said he likes to stargaze and worked on the project to learn more about space exploration. While he didn’t ask any questions, Severtson said Olivas’ advice to students to follow their dreams resonated with him.
“I strongly believe in that,” Severtson said. “And wanting to persevere and the fact that it took him nine years to become an astronaut, I thought that was actually amazing and that just really showed if you persevere in your goals you really accomplish what you want.”
Olivas said not every student is going to be interested in space or want to become an astronaut, but he said by introducing students to different subjects within the STEM fields, it might encourage a passion in those who want to advance their knowledge of the final frontier.
“Not everyone’s going to be a space worker, not everyone’s going to be inspired by space in the same manner that I am, but we as parents I think have an obligation to give our kids a taste of as much as we possibly can,” Olivas said. “It may be not immediately that they’ll say ‘Ah, this is what I want to do’ but something will happen in their life further on down the line where there’ll be a recollection to that point in time when they saw it then all of a sudden, it’ll click. And it’s like ‘That’s what I need to be doing with my life.’”
And once that passion starts to click, the sky is no longer the limit. It’s the beginning.