Thursday, July 24, 2014
Sisters Connie Richardson Smith and Mary Richardson Tester create unique adventures and learning activities during their summer aerospace science camp held at Waccamaw Elementary School in Pawleys Island.
Children looking for hands-on space exploration activities the week of July 14-17 needed to look no further than this dynamic duo’s popular summer camp.
“Do not touch this,” future astronaut Liam Perry warned. “If you do, your finger will be incinerated by a fire-destroying, heat-seeking biting plant.”
To the untrained naked eye, this powerful security device on Perry’s custom-designed space station may look like a piece of a discarded soda bottle.
But it is much more than recycled trash to Perry. “I’m warning you,” he said. “You have no idea how powerful this plant is.”
Clad in his orange astronaut suit with commander cap to match, Perry has done exactly what Smith and Tester intended for him to do. He has developed his knowledge of aerospace by using his creativity and imagination.
Space camp students designed and built space stations in cooperative groups using recycled materials.
Looking around the room at the other student astronauts, the sisters’ intentions have been clearly brought to fruition. “Would you like to see how I am deflecting cosmic debris from hitting my space station?” inquired third-grader Brooks Furr, as he pointed to his two-foot by four-foot space station creation.
The teaching team of Smith and Tester has successfully taught this aerospace science camp for about 20 years, adding new features each year.
“Gee, I can’t remember exactly how long we have been doing it, but it has to be at least 20 years now,” Tester said as she helped her future astronauts cut out F16 planes from recycled Styrofoam.
Smith, an adjunct instructor at Morningside College in Iowa, and Tester, a high school special education teacher in Pawleys Island, have both completed graduate work in science education at the University of Iowa through the Iowa Chautauqua Program.
In addition, they also have completed teacher training at the Johnson Space Center through the Space Exploration Educators Conference and Tester attended MoonKAM training in Las Vegas through the Sally Ride Science Institute.
“We want to share our training with these children,” Smith said. “We hope that something we have learned will spark their space exploration curiosity.”
To say these two sisters have sparked children’s space exploration curiosity is an understatement.
“Where is the habitational module?” asked eight-year-old Thomas Diggs. “I don’t know, but I found something we can use for the radiator,” eight-year-old Keyanna Streeter replied.
To give the students a more realistic look at living and working in space, Smith and Tester call upon the expertise of Lieutenant Colonel Rick Nobel of the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Nobel, an F16 fighter pilot instructor, is dressed in full flight gear and shares firsthand flight knowledge with the students, taking them through a day in the life of a fighter pilot.
Nobel experiences some of the same obstacles and situations in his F16 that astronauts encounter during space exploration missions.
“Who knows what the top speed of my F16 is?” asked Nobel. With answers ranging from 500 to 1,200 miles per hour, Nobel clued the students in: “The top speed of my aircraft is 1,600 miles per hour.”
Nobel said his aircraft flies so fast it is past someone before they can even hear his aircraft – traveling at two times the speed of sound.
Nobel spends a great deal of time explaining the effects of gravity on “space travelers.” “If I am flying at 1,600 miles per hour, can I breathe on my own, or do I need some help from my airplane?” he asked the students.
Nobel takes them on a verbal mock flight in his F16. He begins his journey wearing a basic green pilot’s jumpsuit. Before he is finished, he has added gravity compression overalls, a helmet, oxygen tubing, and night vision goggles.
Before their eyes, the students begin to not only see a fighter pilot emerge, but an explorer of space as well.
“Anybody have a clue how we see at night way out there in space?”
With that question, Nobel pulls out the much anticipated night goggles, turns off the lights, and raises the curiosity bar to a whole different level.
“I want to look, let me see,” the campers said, anxiously awaiting their turn to look through the night vision goggles to get yet another taste of space exploration.
She does, she really does want that to happen one day,” camper Ben Hammell said excitedly.
Watching Smith and Tester see the space exploration wheels turn in the heads of their students, it wasn’t clearwho was getting more out of the camp, the students or the teachers.
“I am really hoping that one of these children will grow up to be an astronaut,” Smith said, gazing upward to the sky.
“I want them to have a lunar outpost so that I can bring my rocking chair there and retire.”
Her sister Mary nodded and said, “She does, she really does want that to happen one day. I hope for her sake and our future astronaut campers that it does.”
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