NASA trip out of this world

A student at the space camp

Many children dream of being astronauts and of seeing Earth from space, but for 24 students from 10 south-western Sydney high schools this dream recently became reality.

In September the students and six teachers travelled to the US Space and Rocket Research Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

A passion for science

The US Space Academy and Field Studies Program for Years 9 to 11 students is an enrichment and leadership program designed to instil in the students a passion for science and encourage them to become leaders in their school communities.

It also exposes students to the array of career opportunities in the field of science.

Over six days the students had the chance to see what it was like to be an astronaut, learning about the physical, emotional and mental demands they are faced with in their training.

Space training

The training included undertaking microgravity simulations using SCUBA in a 10-metre-deep training tank; using a multi-axis trainer (a device that simulates the disorientation one would feel in a tumble spin during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere); flight simulator training; and leadership activities.

Participants also got the chance to talk to ex-astronauts and leaders in the aerospace field.

Bernanda Telalovic, from Casula High School, said the excursion was out of this world.

"The whole experience was a unique and creative way of incorporating science with outright fun. For me the highlights were definitely the activity at the Space and Rocket Centre and the EDM (a three-hour extended duration mission).

"There's just something incredibly hilarious about everything going wrong at once and seeing the reactions of yourself and others in that surreal situation. This and other activities allowed us to grow as a team and become very close friends.

Endless opportunities 

Fellow camper, Christopher Booth, from Lurnea High School, said the trip "showed us where science can take us and the opportunities it opened up are endless".

The program, now in its third year, is led by Dr Ken Silburn, head teacher science at Casula High School.

He said the program was not aimed at academically gifted students, but those who had a genuine interest in the subject.

"A student who went on the trip previously told me she originally went on the trip for the chance to travel overseas, but the experience opened up her ideas about science. She went on to receive the Victor Chang Science Award."

Photo courtesy of Dr Ken Silburn.

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