Where on Earth could you really prepare for the challenges of space? As it turns out, it’s right in our back yard. NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project) sends NASA employees to live in Aquarius – an underwater laboratory right off the Florida Keys, to prepare for space travel. Aquarius is located 3.5 miles off Key Largo, and 62 feet under the surface of the water, and NEEMO crewmembers live there for up to 3 weeks at a time. NEEMO missions include astronaut training and testing equipment required for exploring asteroids.
Now use your imagination. Think about trying to accomplish a task that would be pretty simple on land. Shoveling sand. Inserting a screw into machinery. Holding still. Picking up a rock. Breathing. Now imagine doing those tasks underwater (or in space). All these things that we take for granted in our every day lives become much more difficult in space, and trying it out underwater is great practice.
On Saturday October 22nd, 85 participants, including Digital WAVE students, attended an event that featured a live webcast with NEEMO crew, in which they learned about NEEMO missions first hand. Other participants included teachers who were attending a professional development training for APEX (After-School Program Exploring Science), and other high school students from the Upward Bound Math & Science program. During the Q&A with NEEMO crew, participants asked about the challenges of asteroid exploration, and how astronauts train for it. During the daylong event, students also participated in activities stationed throughout the Museum related to asteroid composition, gravity and buoyancy, and projectile motion. And of course, what day would be complete without being able to make and analyze your own impact craters?
When a NASA scientist meets high school students, you may automatically think that it is always the NASA scientist that would be teaching the students. But at the Museum’s Digital WAVE: Warming Winds and Water program, the scientist taught the students, AND the students taught the scientist. At Digital WAVE’s first virtual speaker event of Fall 2011, Dr. Mike Gunson from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California met with Digital WAVE students in Miami to talk about climate change. The event took place in the virtual world of Second Life, and everyone communicated through his or her avatars. Dr. Gunson is an atmospheric scientist and works on the OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) satellite that will map carbon dioxide from space and will “watch the Earth breathe.”
Dr. Gunson speaks to students around the Digital WAVE campfire.
Dr. Gunson talked about how carbon dioxide was “the missing link between soft drinks, forests, ocean acidity, wild fires, cement production, and volcanoes” and how records and observations from ice cores and satellites show how carbon dioxide levels have increased, and how humans have contributed to the problem.
Dr. Gunson explains The Keeling Curve, which shows direct observations of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958.
Then… students had the opportunity to show Dr. Gunson what they had been working on in virtual worlds. Their avatars led Dr. Gunson’s avatar to where the students are building 3D objects as part of their projects to create virtual climate change exhibits. Getting feedback from a NASA scientist is pretty special. And getting his attention so much so that he asked for an invitation to come back to see their final projects – that’s saying something.
The beginnings of students' virtual exhibit projects on climate change. See the glaciers?