By LEIGH GUIDRY, Advertiser of the Daily Lafayette
OPELOUSAS, Louisiana (AP) – More than 20 high school students worked with engineers and NASA trainers to simulate life on a space station, create circuits and send electric currents through graphite on paper this week at Northwest High School.
They produced these experiments and more as part of the NASA Astro Camp presented by Central Creativity and St. Landry Parish schools. Students participate in person at Northwest High and the Magnet Academy for Cultural Arts at Opelousas.
Students from across the district gathered at the Northwest High Library on Wednesday to hear from Chad Hammons, connecting virtually from their home in Houston.
Hammons is on top of the portable life support systems, or backpacks, that astronauts wear on their space suits – “especially new suits for new astronauts who go to the moon,” he explained.
He answered questions about the pressure of the suits and the dangers in space. He said they had to watch out for micrometeors and moon dust, which is surprisingly strong.
“The moon really takes its toll on our costumes,” Hammons said.
The Mississippi native ended his interview by recalling that there are different ways to access NASA and space careers.
“If you want to become a scientist, there is a path for you,” he said.
That message resonates with Astro Campers like Madison and Allison Freeman, twin sisters who will begin their final year at Eunice High next month.
“I liked seeing that there is more to space than astronauts and planets,” Allison said. “There are people in the shadows.”
She refers to Hammons and others the group heard from this week, including a woman who spent three months in isolation in the arctic wilderness. Allison explained that the survival exercise was aimed at mimicking a space environment and providing vital information for future missions.
“It’s the same concept,” said the 17-year-old. “I was blown away that you could use something here on Earth to explain how to survive on Mars.”
Allison wants to be a mechanical engineer someday, so the STEM camp was quite in her back alley, especially building a little wooden rocket with an LED light. They had to use a circuit to pass a current to power the bulb.
“My favorite part wasn’t the building, but everyone’s troubleshooting,” she said. “I like to see why some things don’t work.
Her sister Madison said the experience opened her eyes to other aspects of space travel, which she has no plans to do.
“Going to space is not what I plan to go but I saw (the camp) as a chance to broaden my horizons,” she said. “I thought it would be fun. It’s fun so far.
This week, she ate “miracle berries” that prompted her taste buds to switch from sweet and salty water, “chewed” after making pods of water that help astronauts stay hydrated, and planting ray- grass in crushed coconuts rather than soil. Grass grows quickly and without much water, important characteristics for food in space.
“They teach us a lot of survival tips in a short period of time,” Madison said.
On Wednesday, they made paper rockets and launched them by blowing through a straw. It quickly became a competition.
“The best part was seeing them all having fun with it, and they really got it,” said Rachel Smith, Eunice High advisor.
She and her fellow EHS teacher Keenya Alfred run the camp in Northwest. All the teaching comes from NASA employees on the computer screen in real time, Alfred explained.
Smith said students learn a variety of skills, from team building to how to use Earth’s resources for cooking. They made s’mores with the help of the sun later in the week.
“They like to learn different ways to use energy and see how things taste in space,” Alfred said.
But 13-year-old Donald Babino admitted that waterpods were a strange experience.
“It tasted like water but you have to chew, which is weird,” Donald said.
The camp is a collaboration between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and several Acadiana school districts as part of the college’s STEMulating Summer 2021 program.
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