PARIS — Find your passion and take a risk.
Students and staff at the Oxford Hills Middle School got a unique opportunity last week to see and hear from a NASA astronaut who may one day be circling the Moon or on her way to Mars.
“Make sure you are doing the one thing you are passionate about, find that passion and define that path. Take a risk,” Dr. Jessica Meir, a Caribu native and NASA astronaut, told hundreds of students and staff at Oxford Hills Middle School during the Space Day Maine celebration on Friday, May 5.
Space Day Maine is part of the annual National Space Day educational initiative to promote math, science, technology and engineering education by inspiring students’ enthusiasm about the universe and space explorers.
Sharon Eggleston, the Northeast Regional Coordinator for Space Day activities, said this year Oxford Hills Middle School selected to be the host school for the event based on a request from the Maine Math and Science Alliance. Eggleston said that statewide nine schools, and about 6,000 students including those in the Oxford Hills School District, celebrated Space Day Maine last week. The event has sponsored by the Maine Space Consortium since 2003.
Meir, who earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biology from Brown University in 1999, a Master of Science degree in Space Studies from International Space University in 2000 and a Doctorate in Marine Biology (diving physiology) from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD) in 2009, enthralled the audience with her tales of flying with geese, living in underground caves and flying T-38 planes, all on her pathway toward becoming an astronaut.
“The hardest thing I ever did, probably even harder then becoming an astronaut, was to teach them to fly in an air tunnel,” she said.
But training to be an astronaut was no small feat, she assured the students.
How do you train for space?
From living in underground caves in Italy to submerging herself in a 400-pound space suit in water, training was all simulated, she said. She had to learn how to fix a toilet because there are no plumbers in space. She learned Russian because she will train and live with cosmonauts.
She participated in research flights on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft and served as an aquanaut crew member in the Aquarius, underwater habitat for NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operation’s mission.
She underwent water and wilderness survival training, robotics, physiological training, scientific and technical briefings and intensive instruction in the International Space Station (ISS) systems and extravehicular activity.
Meir said she had to learn not only how to work, but how to play together to be an effective member of the team.
“What’s cooler than wearing a spacesuit?” she said.
“It’s all within your grasp,” she told the students.
‘Space is the limit’
Although unable to attend the event, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, sent a video greeting to the middle school, which was shown just before Meir was introduced.
King first spoke of Dr. Eileen Yingst, who lives in Brunswick and runs the Mars Rover, controlling where it goes on the surface of Mars from Maine, and then spoke of how students’ futures are limitless.
“…you guys can do anything. The sky is literally not the limit, space is the limit, and that’s what’s so cool about Space Day,” King said.
“You’re going to learn that it takes hard work, a lot of application of knowledge, a lot of study, but as I said, it’s all up to you. And that’s what Space Day is all about, to show you the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and math and where it can take you – to the moon, to the planets and beyond,” King told the students. “It’s the next great frontier for the human race, and it’s something that is within your grasp.”
Following Meir’s presentation at the middle school and before traveling to the Paris and Guy E. Rowe elementary schools, Meir sat down for an extensive and revealing interview with four students – Colin Edwards, Emily Cummings, Raine McGinnis and Bram Dustin – involved in the news team Quest under the supervision of teacher Joe Cummings. The interview was held in the small news studio in the basement of the school.
Asked if it was the biggest interview they ever had, the students were all smiles.
“Definitely. No comparison,” said Colin. “We’ve only interviewed students before.”
The interview is available for public viewing at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KoCc_UMdlk.
Following the presentation, students were engaged throughout the day in their classrooms and other areas in the school by a large number of space-related discussions, activities and displays.
A large number of presenters were on hand including Earth KAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students,) a NASA educational outreach program which allows students, teachers and the public to learn about Earth from the unique perspective of space; the Southern Maine Astronomers Society and Solar System Ambassador, which showed students the Curiosity mission on Mars and Cassini on Saturn, and many others.
There was also a discussion about the lunar explorers by Bates Professor Dr. Gene Clough; the Challenger Learning Center; members of the Yarmouth High School rocketry program, and even a kids space club from Canada.
Assistant Principal Tara Pelletier said the sessions provided students with a variety of STEM-related experiences that are designed to encourage student interested in NASA, as well as other STEM-related fields.
In the afternoon the students were involved in a VTC, a “Video Tela Conference,” where students were able to ask NASA questions in real time.
Before Meir concluded her presentation, she told middle school students to keep an eye out for the International Space Station, which is visible from the ground because in a couple of years she may be on board.
“I’ll be waving when I fly over Maine and hopefully you’ll be able to wave back to me,” she said.