Letters from Space Camp - 2

This week I have been privileged to do many things I never imagined I would actually do…especially as an adult. I walked on the moon, experienced temporary weightlessness, and performed a few deep space missions. Yet, one of my favorite moments of Space Camp was having the opportunity to listen to Ed Buckbee address our group. He gave us all a fantastic overview of NASA’s space program in the early years and specifically the “Real SpaceCowboys”. By the time he was done speaking I was ready to get back to school and inspire the next generation of much needed engineers, scientists, and leaders.

Buckbee told us a great many stories that we inspiring, amazing, humorous and just plain cool. The theme that came out the most in his stories was this notion of we were in this together. After JFK announced that we would be going to the moon, the entire country was behind this project. Even some of my fellow teachers who were living during this age remember the collective national passion behind the NASA programs in the early years. Everyone was behind the astronauts and the men that would eventually put them on the moon.

One of my favorite anecdotes Buckbee shared was when he talked about Wernher von Braun and how he would walk down the halls and tell people, “you are on the critical path”. He wanted everyone to know that they were part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone knew they were a part of the mission to put man into space regardless of what role they played. Another story was of Alan Shepard, one of the early astronauts, who was speaking to a technician working late at night on one of the launch rockets. Shepard asked the man if he knew how all the parts in the rocket worked. The man replied that he did not but said, “I’m gonna make my part work.” No one person knew how it all worked but they knew how to do their small part in making the whole work.

These men understood they were part of something much larger and greater then themselves. They were aware they played but a small role but each and every role served a purpose. The sheer complexity of putting a man in outer space is staggering when you think of the millions of pieces, parts and potential pitfalls and errors that were possible. However, all of these people were working together towards a common goal was powerful and the result was putting man in space.  

I was going to attempt to make a connection to the classroom but will save that for another post. Listening to the stories of the space program and what these pioneers did was inspiring to me as a teacher and as an American. It is sad to think that in my lifetime I have only ever seen our country come together behind a common goal in response to national tragedies.  I recognize it was another time period in American history but I hope to inspire my students to find something like these men did. I want them to be as passionate about something as the early men of NASA were. There is little doubt in my mind that when we are passionate about what we are doing and recognize our own roles amazing things can happen. 

Letters from Space Camp - 1

This week I am coming to you live from Huntsville, Alabama where I am privileged to be attending International Space Camp. Last night was our “opening ceremonies” where the teachers of the year from every state introduced themselves and their state while wearing some sort of costume to represent their state. We had New York dressed as the Statue of Liberty and the guy from Washington as a nearly fully functioning Mount St. Helens and 48 other costumes. After each state introduced themselves and presented, we had the great pleasure to listen to our international counterparts speak about their countries which was both highly informative as well as entertaining. My favorite was the German students who presented a couple abridged versions of Brothers Grimm fairy tales in hilarious fashion.

Beyond the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremony we have also had the opportunity to listen to Astronaut Charlie Duke. He spoke to our group about his experiences in NASA and his Apollo 16 flight and subsequent walk on the Moon. Needless to say there is something surreal listening to a man talk about walking on the moon in the same manner I talk about walking to the ice cream shop. In addition to Duke, we had dinner with other members of NASA’s space program including some of the original designers and engineers that worked on the Saturn 5 which was directly overhead as we ate.

Today we begin our flight missions and presumably the real “fun” of Space Camp that many children have dreamed of participating in. As I being this week full of learning, challenges and surely a great deal of fun, I am reflecting on a comment made in our first session when we arrived here at Camp. The coordinator of the program was introducing Space Camp and the ideals of NASA and overall space exploration. While doing so she said, “we explore because it’s there.”

She didn’t say we explore because we have to. Nor did she say we explore because we are being asked to. Yes, you can argue that the engineers and astronauts were doing their work because it was their job and they did have someone telling them to do just that. However, at the very basic level, the exploration of space was out of a sense of wonder and amazement and probably a heavy dose of curiosity. When you listen to the people involved in the early years of NASA as we have this weekend, they truly loved what they did. They wanted to put man into outer space and did just that. They were creative problem solvers and critical thinkers because they had to be. What is more amazing is just what they were able to accomplish with the level of technology they had available. As Duke said, we have more technological power within an iPhone that he did on the entire Apollo 16 ship. That is staggering.

I plan on using the phrase “we explore because it’s there” in my classroom. I want my student to explore and discover because it’s there, not because it will be on the test or because it is in the curriculum map. I want them to learn because it’s there…period.