2004: Century Mission

Century Mission 2004 is the ninth simulated fifth grade space mission at the Columbus Magnet School since missions began in 1996. Each of the five astronauts and eight mission controllers have completed seven months of intensive preparation for this year’s 24-hour simulation. All systems are go for a return to the glory days of Apollo on May 6, 2004.

This year’s undertaking is notable in several regards:

  • For the first time ever, non-CMS students are part of the team.
  • The emphasis is on the history of flight and the space program.
  • An Apollo spacecraft is being used instead of the Space Shuttle.
  • Each team member is representing an actual historical figure.

Although the simulated mission has always been open to dedicated and committed Columbus fifth graders who have graduated from the early grades in the Young Astronaut program, this year marks an encouraging departure from the past. Two former Columbus students, who now attend different schools, have re-joined their comrades for this year’s mission. In opening the flight to others, Columbus continues to live by its special brand of education, where inclusion is the norm and there is opportunity for everyone.

In homage to the centennial of powered flight accomplished by Wilber and Orville Wright on December 17, 1903, the focus of this year’s mission has been on the history of flight and the space program. From the mythical days of Icarus, through the first halting steps of the Wrights, this year’s fifth graders have learned about early flight and how it has progressed to the space age. People can only know where they are going if they know from where they came, and our Young Astronauts have become experts on such air travel luminaries as the Montgolfier Brothers, George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal, and Charles Lindbergh. As each chapter in the progression of flight was written, every innovator could safely quote Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The 2003/2004 mission participants, by learning of our collective past, are now poised to see the future.

The one hundred years of powered flight saw many miracles, from crossing the Atlantic Ocean, to breaking the sound barrier, and finally leaping into space. But the natural and epic culmination of mankind’s continual striving to go higher, faster, and farther was achieved on July 20, 1969, when, for the first time, men walked on a different planet. The Apollo Project was the zenith of the hopes and dreams of millions throughout history. For many people, space projects since those heady days between July 1969 and December 1972 have paled in comparison to the wonder and glory of Apollo.

Re-living the grandeur of Apollo gives this year’s fifth grade team of astronauts and controllers the opportunity to experience launching, flying, and managing the Saturn V rocket, a command module, and a lunar module on their way to a rendezvous with the moon and our past. But there was another, more somber reason why this year’s simulated mission is recreating the Apollo lunar explorations.

The tragic loss of the shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 forced not only NASA to reconsider its future, but the fifth grade mission coordinators as well. If the purpose of Columbus School’s Young Astronaut program is to approximate the learning, training, and experiences of actual astronauts, the problem posed by the shuttle loss was that the students would be coached for a flight in a vehicle that is grounded indefinitely. The fun and joy could at best feel artificial, and at worst, be a morbid reminder of a great, but fallen bird.

The adventures of the six Apollo missions to land on the moon were, of course, anything but melancholy. Each successive trip was a cause for swelling pride in American know-how and achievement. The Columbus fifth grade Young Astronauts have gotten a taste of the excitement of Apollo throughout their seven months of training; even more so since each one our team members has been charged with the assignment of taking on the role of an actual historical figure from that time.

Much in the way that the historic village of Williamsburg preserves the past by living it every day, the Century Mission 2004 members’ objective is to provide a living history to the rest of Columbus School. Each student, after being assigned his/her job assignment, chose and then assiduously researched an actual 1960’s or 1970’s space counterpart. For example, mission commander Lucas Aubrey has chosen to portray Apollo pioneer Buzz Aldrin. Each one of our talented students can effortlessly “be” the person he/she chose to research. By representing an historical character, the mission astronauts and controllers have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for what once was good and can be again.

The key to any successful spaceflight has always been weaving the talents of many different people together with all of them striving for a common goal. The five astronauts could not do their jobs without the efforts of the eight focused controllers. In the same way, the people behind the people, the mission parents, have devoted considerable energy to making Century Mission 2004 a resounding success. If Isaac Newton can be paraphrased, each one of our students has had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants – their parents.