HASSE Senior Space School

HASSE Senior Space School: Have a giant goal and believe in it

On Thursday December 8 2016, the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia sent 54 students from across Australia on an unforgettable journey to Senior Space School in the USA. The program, organised by iVicon and the Houston Association for Space and Science Education (HASSE) was attended by three Santa Sabina Students – Pamela Di Chiara, Emma Jacobs and Amelia Giugni.

The action-packed two weeks included visits to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, various training facilities at NASA and the Johnson Space Centre. Students attended Space University where they engineered a Martian habitat to provide occupants with oxygen, water, power, food and protection from radiation. They also built model rockets and tested heat shields and thermal protection designs. One of the most challenging activities involved the construction of a robotic rover. Around 30 large tubs of individual robotic parts were placed at the front of the room and students had to use their problem-solving skills, alongside much trial and error to develop a rover that was capable of collecting golf ball-sized ‘moon rocks’. Sans instructions! There was much jumping, breath-holding, mechanical repairs and screams of delight as the teams competed against each other in the rover field to see which design could collect the greatest number of rocks in a 15-minute timeframe. Even more exciting than this however was the Level 9 VIP tour. We saw two astronauts being lowered into the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, sat in the flight director chair at the Apollo Mission Control Centre and in the cockpit seats of the Space Shuttle.

The main project that students participated in over the two weeks was XPRIZE. Students were tasked with the challenge to submit a detailed proposal to send a rover of their own conception to land on the moon, travel 500 metres and transmit high quality images back to Earth. I was impressed to see our students take the initiative to discuss their ideas with the highly qualified staff we met each day and ask questions in order to refine their models and proposals. The students visited TXRX Labs to create their rover using CAD-based software which were then 3D printed overnight. The final presentations were of an exceptionally high standard and included novel launch procedures, soft-landing techniques, contingency strategies and adaptations of existing orbital motion technologies. In all, 13 teams of students from the Senior Space program competed against each other in XPRIZE and the top four finalists were invited to present their concept to a panel which included Silver Snoopy recipient, Roland Nedelkovich and the head of Aerospace Engineering at Rice University, Andrew Meade. We were ecstatic when six members of our NSW team took out the top prize over QLD, VIC and ACT students with their high altitude hot air balloon launch system and anti-static sphero rover design on the final day of the tour.

Among the many distinguished speakers we had the pleasure to meet, Dr Heather Paul, a former high school cheerleader, spacesuit engineer and now senior research manager atNASA was one who easily captured our undivided attention. She shared her experiences and insights of working her way up the ranks from her initial position as a cooperative education student at the Johnson Space Centre. She inspired us with her passion of all forms of engineering and stressed the importance of developing effective communication skills and of being a well-rounded individual with broad interests. She spoke of progress in gender equality and opportunities for women to work as engineers at NASA. Today, approximately half of her colleagues are women. Dr Paul concluded her presentation by telling us about the application she submitted last year to NASA’s exclusive astronaut program alongside 18,000 other hopeful candidates for one of just 14 available positions. The successful candidates will be announced in June this year.

Dr Paul’s story and the many others that we heard at Space School provided our students with exemplars of the grit and tenacity that is required to set their sights high, chase their dreams and never give up. It also taught us that the journey along the way can be just as exciting and fulfilling as achieving the end goal. I would like to thank Dr Maree Herrett, the College Board, the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia and iVicon on behalf of the students and myself for extending the opportunity to participate in such a challenging, rewarding and memorable learning experience.

Dr Keryn Lucas
Science Teacher