Juneau students learn about NASA

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

For most people, the term "NASA" conjures images of the space shuttle, satellites and other things speeding through the solar system.

Students at three Juneau schools, however, now know the many ways the "space" agency impacts everyday lives.

Brian Hawkins of NASA's Aerospace Education Services Program gave students at Harborview, Glacier Valley and Mendenhall River elementary schools an introduction to the world of NASA last week. The program was arranged by Harborview third grade teacher Cherry Eckland, who attended a two-week NASA Educational Workshop in California over the summer.

Space travel was an obvious - and very popular - part of the school programs, but a major theme of the presentations was demonstrating that NASA is involved closer to home. Hawkins noted many familiar technologies, including airplanes and global positioning system (GPS) devices, were developed at least in part by NASA.

"We tend to forget that NASA does a lot of down-to-earth technology," he said.

Hawkins gave students a brief history of flight from the ahead-of-their-time ideas of Leonardo da Vinci to the creation of now-widespread "honeycomb" airplane wing material by NASA engineers.

Testing the strength of that material was one of several demonstrations involving students. Other activities included trying on a space suit and getting a chance to see models of the next generation of airplane designs.

Harborview fifth-grader Megan Ehrhart said she enjoyed seeing a video of astronauts in space, which showed the effects of weightlessness on moving around, eating and one scientist's long hair.

Harborview Principal Robert Dye said the presentation not only encourages excitement and enthusiasm for science, math and related fields, but shows students new career opportunities.

"It just opens up a whole new world to kids that they might not otherwise know about," Dye said.

Hawkins said his extended trip to Alaska will include a training session for student teachers at Alaska Pacific University and a stop at the Alaska Science Teachers Association Convention in Anchorage next month.

Eckland - one of 440 teachers nationwide to attend this year's NASA workshops - said the information she gathered there will allow her to incorporate the ideas from last week's programs throughout the rest of the year.

"I had access to all kinds of curriculum and the opportunity to explore it," she said of the workshop. "I brought back notebooks full of resources ... posters, videos and CDs."

While recent accomplishments in space exploration, aeronautics and other fields of science have pushed the boundaries of human knowledge, Hawkins told students there is still a lot more to learn for those who want to enter the space and aeronautics fields.

"Kids come up to me and say, 'Mr. Hawkins, everything has already been discovered,' " he said. "I say, 'No, kids, we've just started to discover.' "

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