Adventures in [ Simulated] Space

Guest Blog Author : MSgt (ret) Stephen Pederson 

   While many R-MA teachers were teaching summer school courses, I had the opportunity to participate in five professional development programs at the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center.  These programs, sponsored by the NASTAR Foundation, have been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for continuing educational credits.  Each program combines applicable content from sources from NASA, FAA, NOAA, K’NEX Education, and Estes Industries with NASTAR’s own training resources.  What made these programs unique was NASTAR’s ability to provide educational resources that could further be used in the classroom and their focus on activity based projects that could immediately be implemented in the classroom.

   On the first day, “The Atmosphere and Weather” program provided an overview on the layers of the atmosphere, weather elements, cloud types, and weather instruments.  Data relating to the layers of atmosphere will be useful while covering spacecraft launches and the effects each layer can have on both the human body and launch vehicles.  “It will be great explaining to students how and why exposed liquid will boil in a space environment.”  During this program, we built a weather vane and anemometer along with a cloud spotter activity that will be useful during the rocketry intramurals.

   The second day program covered “Exploring the Solar System” which included the planets, Earth’s moon, asteroids, comets, meteorites and solar system missions.  Since I cover space missions, I was able to acquire additional unique information that covers why events happened that will further enhance the learning experience.  One such example is how NASA inadvertently caused the Viking Lander to enter safe mode which ended its mission.  The Mars Pathfinder Egg Drop and Landing activity provided a fun activity to use when discussing efforts needed to land on Mars.

Effects of Airfoil on Lift   On day three, “The Magic of Flight” focused on the forces of   flight, the pull of gravity, Newton’s three laws of motion, and Bernoulli’s principle.  Each of these areas provided simplistic methods to help students better understand the concepts along with simple activities that would enhance student understanding.  At right, we experimented with changing the airfoil angle to learn how these changing angles affected lift.   The program ended with our ability to experience flight through the use of their General Aviation trainer.  We were tasked to take off, fly, and land an aircraft at a small airport.  My flight ended in a crash resulting from not enough airspeed during landing.  This error was significant in that it resembled the recent Boeing 777 crash in San Francisco and brought home the importance of training.

   Day four’s “Rocket Science” program was familiar to me and covered Newton’s third law, rocket types, the DeLaval Nozzle, Model Rocketry, Rocket Stability, and the History of Space Flight.  What made this program important was seeing the sequence in which this material was presented.  I learned a better way in presenting this material and will make changes to my curriculum to enhance the program.  Additionally, I learned about several activities that I can implement in the rocketry intramural.  Sometimes the desire to share knowledge with the students overpowers the need for them to have some fun in class and this is especially critical during an intramural program.  After building a rocket racer, puff rocket, stomp (air powered) rocket, and rocket, I learned first-hand how some of the simple things can bring enjoyment to the curriculum.                                                                 

    Day five brought the most exciting program of the week, “Acceleration,” which has the most direct impact on my “Exploring Space” course.  Forces, such as acceleration, disorientation, and hypoxia, were discussed.  The acceleration discussion referenced the three axis (X, Y, Z) and the physiological effects on each.  During the human vestibular system discussion, we conducted an activity using a slow spinning chair to experience the effects of spatial disorientation.  In preparation for our 3-G suborbital flight profile in the centrifuge, we learned the anti-G straining maneuver and breathing techniques.  Then, we experienced the effects of G-force first hand.  Now, I can discuss G-forces with my students at a personal level and explain what I experienced during the flight.

   Upon completing these five programs, time in the centrifuge was not finished.  An advertisement went out asking for volunteers to participate in a medical study.  In the earlier periods of space flight, you had young, fit, pilots that entered the space program.  As part of R-MA’s summer reading program, students learned they were referred to as having the “Right Stuff.”  Now, we have Virgin Galactic and X-COR that wants to give your common every day man or woman a chance to purchase a ride into space and experience suborbital spaceflight.  Unlike the earlier pilot, these individuals may have medical problems that may disqualify them from taking these suborbital flights.

   The University of Texas Medical Branch is conducting research to understand how certain diseases respond to accelerated forces tourists might experience during a suborbital commercial spaceflight.  Since I fit the profile for two of the five medical issues, I was accepted as a subject for this study.  On the first day, we were exposed to an initial two minute centrifuge run with a maximum peak of 3.5Gz (head-to-toe) for 15 seconds.  The second run for the day exposed us to a two minute Gx (front-to-back force) centrifuge run with a maximum peak of 6.0 Gx for 15 seconds.  Medical monitoring, i.e. heart rate, blood pressure, pulse oximetry and EKG during all profile runs provided critical data for their baseline study.

   On the second day of the study, we experienced exposure similar to spaceflight profiles matching both a Virgin Galactic flight and an X-COR flight.  Initial, each was run at ½ intensity followed by a full intensity flight after a brief pause.  Each finished set resulted in several tests used to determine the effects of the flight on our body.  These tests will actually be illustrated during my “Exploring Space” class.

   As stated earlier, having experienced the G-force affects of a spaceflight profile, I learned first-hand how these forces act on the body.  I came away experiencing limited G-LOC and successfully performed the anti-G straining maneuver to counter its affect.  I learned that continued exposure to elevated G-forces enabled my body to adjust which made the affects less intense as each ride proceeded.  Finally, I came away knowing that not only will I have some fantastic material to show my students, I may have improved the ability to successfully screen future commercial spaceflight passengers with medical conditions similar to my own.






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