Commonwealth Journal

April 6, 2013

Meece students test their mettle as astronauts during Space Camp

By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Have you ever tested your mettle to see if you’d cut it as an astronaut?
A group of Meece Middle School students got that chance in March.
“This is stuff that most (people) would never get to see in their life,” said Scott Dunn, science teacher at Meece.
Dunn has helped groups of students make the trip to Huntsville, Ala. every other year for the last two decades to take part in a Space Camp program — one that exposes students to the challenges and history of space travel. 
The 42 students and seven adults stayed two nights at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center campus and received what one would consider some of the most authentic science lessons available.
The students got to experience space-like situations through equipment such as the 1/6th gravity chair — “We’d been going for 20 years and never had gotten to do that,” said Dunn — which simulates the equipment used by Apollo astronauts for moon walk training. The students also got to use the multi-axis trainer (M.A.T.), which simulates the disorientation astronauts feel when their ship enters a tumble spin during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, and the centrifuge, which spins quickly to press an object outward with the centrifugal force.
Students were even able to feel the pressure of four times the force of Earth’s gravity, thanks to the G-force trainer.
Payton Burkett, 12, had a few words of wisdom to anyone who may find themselves experiencing the G-force trainer.
“If you lay your head back and keep your eyes up, you don’t know you’re spinning,” said Burkett. 
And to top that off, the students worked together to successfully pilot and command a space shuttle mission. 
“We were given parts and we had to figure out if a problem was to occur, we had to find a solution,” said 12-year-old Natalie Dick. 
The task was a bit overwhelming at first, but the students learned to work together to safely launch the shuttle and bring it home.
“There was a lot of buttons,” said Lilli Urton, 11. 
Urton got to be the mission’s pilot, while Dick the commander. And Burkett got to pull the strings of the mission as the flight director.
“(The flight director) bosses them two,” said Burkett, about Urton and Dick, who were both in his flight mission group. “He has command of the whole thing.”
The three-day, two-night experience was certainly a memorable one for all involved, especially those students who learned to work together to solve problems that may arise in the darkness of space.
“You get to meet a lot of people you didn’t know ... even in (your own) grade,” said Dick.
Dunn said the March trip was one of his most enjoyable, but in a bittersweet way. He said there’s a chance this year’s Space Camp trip may be the last for Meece because prices for the program have increased. 
“Unfortunately, this may be the last time we get to go,” said Dunn. 
That’s one reason some of the students took advantage of the opportunity when they did.
“I knew it might be the last year, so I wanted to go,” said Burkett. 
Whatever the motivation, the students were able to come home armed with knowledge that not everyone can experience first-hand. And that’s why the trip is so valuable, according to Dunn.
“It’s a lot of work to get together,” said Dunn, who noted they’d been planning the trip since October, “but once you get to go, it’s worth it.
“I’ve been I don’t know how many times, but I think I enjoyed it more this time than before,” Dunn added. 
And the experience sparked in many of the students further curiosity into the realms of science.
“I think science is the most interesting subject,” said Urton. 
“You have more hands-on things than in other subjects,” added Dick.