POLLOK, Texas (KTRE) - Students with Central Independent School District are well on their way to completing a mission assigned to them by the highest space authority in America: to create the model of a helmet to better protect astronauts from radiation in the deepest reaches of space.
While most kids are on summer vacation, sleeping in, swimming, going to camp and on vacation, the “Central Space Station” team has been having a different kind of fun. Even after the school year ended, the team researched topics like solar flare radiation and material that would shield astronauts against radiation.
“Near the end of April, one of our curriculum specialists shared a NASA project with us. I just kind of glanced at it, but I had to come back and think about it,” said Lisa Reid, 5th grade science teacher at Central Junior High School. “I asked a bunch of my students if anybody would be interested because in 5th grade this year, there’s just a lot of students who are really good at engineering, and the thoughts and ideas they have everyday, they just amaze me."
Reid offered the program to her students, and she said around 30 or so from various grade levels said they were interested. The next step was finding another teacher who would help Reid lead the students throughout the experience, and Shonda Kelsey was one of the first educators on her list.
“Some of this was above our heads, even as adults, and so it was real challenging,” said Kelsey, STEAM lab K through 4 elementary teacher. “We’re just fortunate to have this opportunity to do this. I think it’s exciting that we’re part of the future.”
Students started the NASA Wearable Equipment for Averting Radiation (WEAR) challenge on May 10. NASA asked schools across the country to participate in a challenge to design and develop concepts and low models that can be evaluated by NASA personnel.
“Kids would meet, sometimes on their own, to research,” said Reid. “They’d get out the computers, they’d research all types of radiation and harmful effects of radiation to the body. Then, they had to start looking at materials that would combat against the radiation going into the bodies of the astronauts.”
“The requirements for the helmet, it had to be under 50 lbs., and we had to use, or find, products that would block out all the different types of radiation,” said Callie Kelsey, who is going into her 8th grade year. “NASA actually recommended using hydrogen-based products.”
The project has more merit than just teaching children; the radiation that astronauts experience can cause cancer, as well as damage to reproductive and blood cells.
With that in mind, students had to think of ways not only to protect astronauts, but also the impact different types of radiations could have on the material they used.
“[We learned about] different types of radiation, and things that happen when you get exposed to way too much radiation - gamma rays,” said Grace van Hoose, who is going into 5th grade. “Gamma rays are the most dangerous, I’ve learned in my research.”
“NASA wanted to see what the students would be involved in, what they could come up with,” said Kelsey.
Teams from Central ISD include students from 5th, 7th, and 8th grades. The teams have come up with helmet designed and they’re now working on a green screen video to submit to NASA on June 21.
“It’s been really fun, I would say. I got out of class, so that was great,” van Hoose said. “I knew what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t know if i would like it. But it’s been really fun.”
“This is something they can be part of, be part of the future,” Kelsey added.
“Our students are the age where, when they graduate, they may become engineers or astronauts,” Reid said. “We’re headed to Mars in 2030, so it would be excited if some of our students went on that mission, or were part of the design process.”
Central Space Station team will present their project to the Central ISD school board on June 13; the team will learn July 1 whether or not their students were apart of one of the winning teams.
The students who developed the winning design gets to go to NASA"s Langley Research Center for a week, where they will meet and work with several NASA engineers and scientists.