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Middle school students get taste of aerospace science

Building an underwater space station, driving a moon buggy and collecting moon rock samples sound like tasks only professional astronauts perform. But sixty area middle school students received the opportunity to experience these activities first-hand while participating in Space Camp 2009.

Richard Potter, far right, of Dive Quest Scuba, teaches middle school students how to scuba dive before they build an underwater space station during the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SNM SEMAA) and the Southern New Mexico Academy of Young Scientists (SNM AYS) Space Camp 2009. (NMSU photo by Margaret Kovar)

The camp was held July 13-17 by two New Mexico State University math and science outreach programs, the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SNM SEMAA) and the Southern New Mexico Academy of Young Scientists (SNM AYS). It was taught by Laura Tomlinson, SNM SEMAA assistant project director, and Courtney Harmon, AYS program coordinator.

"This is a NASA education program. We try to show students what NASA is working on by emulating what the astronauts have done and making it relevant for the students," Tomlinson said.

Middle school students attended morning sessions and middle school girls attended afternoon sessions every day throughout the week in the Aerospace Education Lab. Students participated in different activities, many of which focused on simulating the lack of gravity on the moon.

Instructors from Dive Quest Scuba taught participants to scuba dive, and the students then worked in teams of four to attach solar panels and satellite receivers onto an underwater model of the Hubble Space Telescope.

"Real astronauts train in water. It is the closest thing we have on Earth to what it feels like in space," said Susan Brown, College of Education director of STEM Outreach for the Institute for Excellence in Math and Science Education.

Some of the students already knew how to scuba dive from taking part in the camp last year. For other students, it was their first time.

"It felt really weird and I was a little scared at first. I felt like I was going to stay down underwater and run out of air," said Ruth Robledo, a seventh grader at Vista Middle School, about her scuba diving experience.
Robledo added that the activity was fun and that she would like to participate in the camp again.

Students also wore moon shoes and used robotic arms to pick up moon rock samples. They were able to drive a human-powered moon buggy through a course and study the effects of microgravity on toys.

In addition, participants learned about alternative power and space agriculture, and went on a field trip to White Sands Missile Range during the camp.

"We're hoping the students who attended will get excited about aerospace and science, mathematics, technology and engineering. We are planting seeds of dreams and showing them that they have a future," Tomlinson said.

For those interested in participating in next summer's camps, contact Tomlinson at (575) 646-2991 or visit http://semaa.nmsu.edu/.