9/22 – The Beginning

While the Commander-in-Chief (C in C) oriented a new squad of parents, an advance team of Young Astronauts met for a preliminary exercise. They worked in small groups to try to build the tallest possible tower out of ten pieces of paper and masking tape. The students developed a variety of designs, but they all learned the importance of a stable base.

10/6 – Logic and Teamwork

C in C met his new recruits and emphasized how essential – and rewarding – teamwork will be for all the Young Astronauts. The group discussed the importance of every single job at NASA, from the commander of a spacecraft to the custodial workers. Every contribution matters.

The group discussed the theme of this year’s mission, which is to consider the Earth from the vantage point of space. C in C explained that astronauts who have been in space all talk about the beauty of our planet. They come back with a renewed interest in cherishing the Earth as our home, and with new perspectives on the importance of conservation and the environment. And so the students are going to learn about space ecotourism, a related and growing field. The Mission this year will include a “tourist,” a student chosen from outside the program to participate in the launch.

Their activity was to work together to figure out a few of the “mind mysteries” that C in C provided. Students were divided into groups of three to discuss an assigned mystery—essentially, a logic puzzle—to figure out their initial ideas about and decide what yes/no questions they’d like, as a group, to direct to C in C. He answered their questions in round, one per group, so they also had to attend to what other groups asked. After a few rounds (and sometimes a few more) they could work out an answer as a group.

10/13 – Communication and Structural Engineering

C in C scattered illustrated pages face-down, in random order, all over the floor. The pages, we learned later, were from an illustrations-only book. The students’ challenge was to turn over the pages and figure out their correct sequence, with no hints beyond details in the pictures themselves—and they had to complete this task without talking, in “radio silence.” Every student had to participate; no one could stand aside; and every student had to find a way to communicate without noise. The students worked well together and soon put the pictures in the correct order.

C in C asked the students to define science. The students began by listing various branches of science, but eventually C in C introduced the idea of science as a way to try to answer questions about the world around them. They talked about the importance of curiosity, of looking for knowledge, of creating and testing hypotheses.

For a final activity, they were divided into five groups of three or four, and each group was provided with limited resources: 5 giant marshmallows, a handful of mini-marshmallows, and about 20 sticks of spaghetti. With those materials—and without speaking—they had to work in their groups to create structures that were stable and as high as possible. Some groups had high structures, others had very stable structures that weren’t quite as high, some had high hopes and tragic collapses. Afterwards, they discussed their various engineering strategies and ideas: what had gone well and what had been challenging, in terms of building and communication. C in C emphasized the importance of learning from mistakes for those whose structures had fallen.

10/20 – Gravity and Newton’s Law

C in C began with an introduction to gravity and Newton’s Law. They began to study the history of flight, from the Montgolfier brothers in France, who launched the first piloted ascent in a hot air balloon, to the Wright Brothers, who made four brief flights with their powered aircraft – the first successful airplane – on December 17, 1903. Then C in C gave the students their greatest challenge yet: to build a self-propelled flight machine with a predictable flight path. This meant that the students needed to be able to predict in what direction their flying machine would go after takeoff. They were divided into small groups of two or three and each group was provided with a balloon, a ball of string, four straws, scissors, and masking tape. The students separated into different classrooms to work on their inventions, and C in C visited each group several times to offer guidance and check on progress. At the end, each team presented its flight machine to the whole group – so they were able to discuss some very different approaches and an exciting range of ideas.

10/27 – Flight

The Young Astronauts continued their study of flight and aerodynamics, with fun facts about the Wright Brothers and a discussion of forces such as lift, thrust, drag, and weight. C in C divided the group into pairs to make several different models of paper airplanes. Students had to be able to work together and carefully follow a series of directions. They tested their paper airplanes in the gym, a big group launch.

11/3 – History of America’s Manned Space Program

A classroom session for the students, who began to learn the history of the U.S. space program. Their lesson began with the earliest rocket scientists and a history of the Space Race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Then C in C gave took them on a journey through the American space program, from Mercury and Gemini through the Apollo missions and the Shuttle era. They also talked about the astronauts. He brought them to the present-day moment of their mission, with a discussion of space tourism and the spacecraft being used or developed today. The Astronauts then embarked on a mission of their own – to search the (internet) galaxy for images of the various spacecrafts and crews and assemble them in their binders.

11/10 – Calculations and the History of Mission Patches

The session began with a math activity, in which students worked in pairs to calculate travel time across time zones. So they needed to use logic and analytical skills as well as math.

Students began to learn about the significance of Mission patches by examining the patches for all the Apollo missions. They became attuned to the iconography and the messages embedded in the artwork, learning about the different crews and astronauts as they encountered the patches that represented those missions. C in C also showed them patches from past Young Astronaut missions. The students discussed the meaning of certain symbols and the way patches express particular themes and ideas, and began to think about images that might best represent their own group.

11/17 – Moon Landing and Mission Patch

The Young Astronauts began with a quick activity that built on their recent reading about the space program. C in C presented them with a scenario in which they are meant to rendezvous with another spacecraft on the lighted surface of the moon. However, mechanical difficulties force a landing 200 miles from the chosen site. In pairs, student worked to rank a list of the items they salvaged from their damaged ship: whatever will help them make the journey to the mother ship at the landing site—everything from oxygen and water to a first aid kit and signal flares. In their discussion afterwards, they learned what to prioritize to survive on the moon.

In the second half of the session, the astronauts broke into groups and began to brainstorm about ideas for a Mission patch of their own. Their mission explores the new world of space tourism with a related on emphasis on protecting our own planet. C in C described the reverence of astronauts such as Dick Gordon, who spoke about Earth’s “beauty and fragility” after seeing our planet from space. The students began to think about how to express these ideas pictorially and arrived at an image of the Earth supported by human hands, with other symbols meant to represent tourism and their own crew. These sketches and ideas eventually gave them a name for their Mission: In Manibus Terrae, the Earth in Our Hands.

12/1 – Community Service: First Responders Dinner

The Young Astronauts worked on their first community service project: serving a full dinner to Norwalk Veterans and First Responders in the Community Room at the Norwalk Police Station. The students greeted EMTs, police officers, and fire fighters, served them dinner, and joined them at tables to discuss their upcoming mission. The children also asked the first responders lots of questions about their roles in the community. Dessert was very generously donated by Sweet Ashley’s.

12/8 – Fitness and Reasoning

The Astronauts had their first fitness session, beginning a regular training regimen that includes stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, and aerobic exercises. They were led by Cathy Ryen, a professional trainer who volunteered to work with them. After their first crew dinner, they split into teams for an activity that focused on reasoning. One student in each team was assigned a new identity without knowing what it was—one of their teachers, a pop star, a cartoon character. That identity was taped to the student’s forehead, and the student had to ask teammates yes/no questions to discover what he or she had become. They had so much fun figuring out the answers!

12/22 – Weight and Collaboration

In an early morning session, C in C emphasized the many implications of weight in space flight. More weight means more fuel; more fuel means more risk and more expense. He explained that for their activity, NASA required a gantry (or tower) to launch its next spacecraft. Supplies were limited, since they represent money and resources. Each team was issued a roll of masking tape and ten sheets of newspaper to build a tower, as stable and high as possible, capable of supporting four full cookie tins. The stakes were high: the cookies themselves. Fortunately, effort (and holiday cheer) were factors – and what counted most of all was how each team worked collaboratively: helping, encouraging, being active, recording good ideas, and summarizing the team’s output. Every student won a tin of shortbread, meant to sustain them as they worked on their vacation assignment: to write their own bios, in the third person, giving a brief history of their accomplishments and Mission goals.

1/12 – Project Blue

Dr. Jon Morse, CEO of BoldlyGo Institute, and former Director of Astrophysics at NASA, came in to speak about Project Blue, a space-based telescope mission that aims to capture the first pictures of a blue Earth-like planet in our closest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri. After explaining the mission’s goals, the Young Astronauts got to use their imaginations to consider and illustrate what the atmosphere, climate, and maybe even life might be like on another planet in a star’s habitable zone.

1/19 – Communication and Codes

One of the themes of the Mission program has been the importance of communication. In this session, C in C began by giving the students a brief history of alphabets and writing, touching on some of the milestones in recording human thought: hieroglyphics and cuneiform tablets, the use of paper, illuminated manuscripts, the printing press. The invention of the telegraph brought up the use of Morse code. C in C taught the group about the field of cryptography and presented them with a few codes to try to break. The students learned to look for patterns in numerical codes. They discussed various kinds of codes (mathematical, dictionary, etc.) and memorized the international phonetic alphabet. Their activity was to make their own code wheels, which required a great deal of precision and focus.

1/26 – Escape

During this field trip, the Young Astronauts split into two teams of eight or nine apiece. Each team entered a locked room. They were given 60 minutes to work out the clues that would let them escape. The students had to be able to break down the challenge into logical steps, and to tackle them one at a time. They also had to work together, listening to each other and making decisions collectively. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a big group dinner.

2/2 –  Space Debris

The astronauts learned about space debris – its sources (man-made), its density around Earth, and its implications. The students were amazed to learn how much debris is estimated to circle the planet, and what measures are taken to prevent collisions. For their activity, students embarked on a simulated mission to remove debris from a wide area of “space,” a large area of carpeted floor demarcated by masking tape. They worked in radio silence in teams of three, first to create their tools – intentionally crude, to give a sense of the difficulty astronauts face—and then to wield them. Students could only use one arm to operate their tools: a single spoon taped to the end of a long thin pole. They needed to work together, in tandem, to be able to bring two spoons together and effectively pick up the marbles that represented pieces of debris.

2/9 – Focus on Fitness

In this session, the astronauts met “Chief” Chuck , a community volunteer who has helped guide the fitness training for Young Astronauts in previous years. He worked with them on an extended training session, followed by a full team dinner.

2/23 – YA Dinner

The Young Astronaut Dinner featured science stations for students of all ages to experiment. The Mission 2018 Astronauts talked about their mission in a short video, and were formally presented to the full YA community in their flight suits. They also helped introduce the 4th grade Cadets for Mission 2019 to their future Commander in Chief.

3/9 – 3/11 – Washington D.C.

A terrific three-day trip to Washington D.C. included trips to Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the National Air and Space Museum, and Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, as well as to National Monuments and points of interest on the Mall.

3/16 – Planetary and Lunar Rovers

The session began with an obstacle course created by fitness trainer Cathy Ryen—tunnels, jumps, rock wall—which every astronaut could run multiple times. After a team dinner, C in C engaged the students in a discussion about the implications of manned and unmanned missions to space. This included a history of planetary rovers. For their activity, the astronauts worked in groups of three on a rover simulation: one acting as the rover (blindfolded), one as the programmer (giving clear and specific directions the rover could follow), and one as the safety officer, making sure the rover didn’t come to harm. Over the course of the year, the astronauts have talked about the difficulty of communication, how challenging it can be to express ourselves clearly. Students have often had to communicate without words (in radio silence) or with limits on what they can say (yes or no). This was a different test of their communication skills. The programmer and safety officer had to direct the rover in and out of rooms, around corners, and past obstacles to find a hidden message. The rover had to rely entirely on its programming and to withstand sudden shocks or abrupt changes of direction. The students were given time to switch roles, so that everyone had a chance to be a rover, programmer, and safety officer.

3/23 – Space Suits

A guest lecture by Brian Battista, Vice President of Air-Lock Inc., about the design and construction of pressure suits and space helmets. The students learned that the suits are vital to keeping the astronauts safe: regulating pressure, keeping temperatures constant in extremes of heat and cold, and protecting the astronauts from collisions or tears that could be fatal. They also discussed the importance of flexibility, the need to communicate, pockets for tools, and the backpack containing life support systems. Their activity helped them see the challenge of constructing suits with so many layers and such high stakes. Teams of three identified one astronaut, who had to be suited up by team members. The suits were made of toilet paper, wrapped around the astronaut. Students had to use as little as possible, as efficiently as possible, creating an “air-tight” suit while still giving the astronaut inside enough flexibility to move. Once the suit had been approved by C in C, the teams had to lead their astronauts across the gym.

4/6 – Astronaut Safety

The students learned about the incredible care and planning that goes into keeping astronauts safe, from their suits to their space crafts. They reviewed some of the safety measures built into the engineering of a space craft: the heat shield, the shape of the craft as it moves through the upper atmosphere, parachutes, padded interiors, even seat belts. Their mission was to work in teams to ensure the safety of Astronaut Eggbert, whose flight was a drop from the second story window to the parking lot below. Students were given limited time and materials. Teams needed to record their design clearly and logically, so future astronauts could work from their procedures. Two incarnations of Eggbert survived the drop! A few others suffered fractures, but the teams’ designs showed great range and thought.

Tourist in Space: The tourist has been chosen! Sabrina Smith (CMS 6th grade) will join the astronauts of In Manibus Terrae on their Mission May 17-18.

4/20 – Discovery Museum

The students visited the Challenger Learning Center at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport for a mission simulation. Each student was assigned roles in both Mission Control and on a spacecraft. They had to work together as a team to fulfill the goals of their mission – and cope with emergencies as they arose.

4/21 – Community Service, Columbus Magnet Habitat

The Young Astronauts met on Saturday for a morning of community service: working in the CMS Habitat under the direction of Andy Britell. In three different work crews, armed with shovels, trowels and rakes, YA students and parents cleaned up planting beds, turned over soil, and helped remove invasive plants in order to make way for species that are indigenous to the natural habitat. Each student was also interviewed as part of the process that helps determine Misison roles. Special thanks to Mr. Thomas, CMS principal, and Julie McNulty, YA Alumni parent, for their extensive work with the astronauts. After lunch, the group worked on various communication exercises, including ones that emphasize attention to detail and following directions.

4/27 – 5/16 – Mission Training

With their roles assigned, all students train specifically for the tasks they will perform during the In Manibus Terrae Mission, either in Mission Control or on the spacecraft crew.