Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Report: Honeywell NASA Educators@SpaceCamp 1

Dear People,

As I have promised, here is the first of my 4 part reflection and report on my experience at the Honeywell NASA Educators@Space Camp which I attended for most of my mid-year two week school holiday.

The complete written interview had been submitted to the New Straits Times 'Learning Curve' for publication on Sunday 19 December 2010.


Rodney Tan
My experience at the Honeywell NASA Educators@Space Camp

I am a teacher teaching in SMK Methodist ACS Melaka. Recently, I received an opportunity most other Malaysian primary and secondary school teachers could only dream of.

In June 2010, I spent five full days from the 13th-17th attending the Honeywell NASA Space Camp for Educators at the United States NASA Marshall Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. My round-trip airfare, accommodation and camp fees were fully funded by Honeywell Hometown Solutions of USA, a diversified technology and manufacturing company. About 220 teachers from 21 countries such as Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and 47 US states took part in the 2010 Honeywell NASA Educators@SpaceCamp. I was really privileged and felt honoured to be the first and only Malaysian teacher to represent my country and the Malaysian teachers at this camp.

We were immersed in space science education from 7.30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The packed days included lots of experiments and hands-on activities to use with our students in the classroom. They were not kidding when the Space Camp organizers said “they send us home tired!” The 45 hours of professional development included classroom activities, workshops, talks, laboratory and field training exercises. Each teacher also experienced real-life astronaut training, including a high-performance jet simulation, scenario-based space missions, and land and water survival training. Part of the programme included having inspiring guest speakers such as the rocket developer Homer Hickam Jr., retired US Space Programme Director Ed Buckbee, and astronaut cum Space Shuttle pilot Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson.

A few memorable Space Camp souvenirs were given to all participants as well. The best of all was a unique deep blue space flight suit with all the logos of NASA, Honeywell, Educator’s Space Camp, Marshall US Space & Rocket Centre, the Space Shuttle, the flag of USA and our own individualized space wings with our name printed were all impressively emblazoned onto the suit. A striking red and black Space Camp backpack, a red Space Camp water bottle, a space shuttle rubber model, pen, t-shirt, and even a book entitled, ‘The Real Space Cowboys’ with a DVD that contained rare movie clips and interviews about the whole history of the US Space programme from the beginning to the Space Shuttle were included. The book contained humorous and dramatic behind-the-scenes accounts of astronauts and the great space race with the Russians. Among the interesting facts I’ve gleamed from the book was Dr. Wernher von Braun’s role in the US Space programme and that he was known as the main innovator of the US Rocket system and one of the founders of Space Camp. Huntsville is the main centre for the US rocket development and the last chapter is about the development of Space Camp. A movie too had also been made about Space Camp.

The Space And Science Centre
The US Space and Science Centre in Huntsville has the best exhibits of the US Space and Rocket building programme. Its impressive exhibits include an actual working Apollo Saturn V rocket and a full stack Space Shuttle which includes the Orbiter, external tanks and two solid rocket boosters formerly used for training the astronauts. Besides, there were also two complete sets of simulators used for space mission simulations which included a Command Centre, a Space Shuttle cockpit and an International Space Station Module each. The famous sleek SR-71 BLACKBIRD spy plane was also exhibited outside the museum. We were given the opportunity to visit the whole centre many times during the entire course of the camp. A normal adult entry would be US$20 which excludes the special exhibits and 3D IMax theatre.

There were many hands-on exhibit which visitors could try and experience. Among them were the Apollo Cockpit Trainer to get a true feel of the cramp quarters shared by the astronauts for 2 weeks in the APOLLO days and a ride called the Mars Mission which is a virtual journey ride across a Martian terrain. To experience up to 4Gs, we rode on the SPACE SHOT which is similar to the one we had at the Genting Theme Park and the G-Force Accelerator where we experienced three times the force of gravity as we spin like in actual astronaut training. The spinning G-Force Accelerator was not a pleasant experience. The Mars Climbing Wall is where we climb a cliff face on a simulated Martian volcano. There’s also a 3-D Digital Theater and an IMAX theatre. We watched in amazement at the meticulous repairs done to the Hubble Telescope and the weird space images taken by the Hubble through the IMAX theatre.

The whole NASA US Space and Rocket Centre was like a big space and military aircraft museum, science centre, theme park and summer camp all rolled into one, and it is opened to the public as well. One could spend the whole day there.

Besides participating and experiencing the camp and the facilities at the US Space and Rocket Centre, one of the greatest benefits of the experience was to network and exchange views and ideas with educators from across the globe.

The accommodation at the University of Alabama was very comfortable and spacious. It is only a 15-minute bus ride to or from here to the Space and Rocket Centre. We stayed in a suite for four persons and each of us have our own room, and only shared the bathroom and toilet with another teacher. The suite is equipped with a big refrigerator, microwave oven, a kitchen and a living room even.

Food was plentiful and we could eat our fill. Typical food at the camp included huge burgers, large portions of steak, sausages, ham, baked/mash potatos, baked beans, Oreos biscuits, Sara Lee’s Iced Chocolate, cakes, fruits, pasta, butter and bread. We even had snacks like Lay’s Frito Chips. The choice of the food was also to cater for the children’s and the teens’ taste as they are having their own space camps at the same time.

Dinner and Dance
On the final night, all the teachers had great fun eating and drinking, and even dancing the night away. We were entertained by a live band called the Alley Cats. One song that I particularly liked very much was a country song entitled “Sweet Home Alabama”; an appropriate song as the Space and Science Centre was situated in the state of Alabama.

At the end of the camp when we graduated, we were given our “wings” in the form of an individualized name tag to be proudly velcroed onto our blue flight suit and a fitting certificate plus large frameable photographs of the whole camp, our team and foreign teachers.

Post Camp Tour
I managed to stay on for another two days to catch the sights and sounds of the historic side of Huntsville as it had many beautifully preserved antebellum houses that were pre-Civil War, a disused railway station turned into a museum, Independence village and even the local cemetery. I even tried the famous Alabama Barbeque at the highly recommended Greenbrier Restaurant. The food was delicious and different but the portions are large and could easily be eaten by two persons.

The 1st Batch of about 112 teachers. I'm standing on the third row towards the right end.

The NASA Education Resource Centre based in Huntsville, Alabama

Standing by a beautiful painting of the International Space Station

My team of 4 water bottle rocket builders standing by our rocket just before launch.
It's really a diverse group with an African American, a Mexican, a Malaysian & a Caucasian.

Another team's water rocket. The design reminded me of Buck Rogers' rockets

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