Middle School Students Take Virtual Field Trip to Space

Students at Farmwell Station Middle School got a rare opportunity last week—they got a chance to virtually visit the International Space Station.

With the space station’s education manager, Dan Barstow, as their guide, the students packed into the school’s auditorium on Oct. 17 to take a virtual field trip to the station, that has been orbiting earth at an average altitude of 250 miles for almost 20 years.

The ISS is 239 feet long and 356 feet wide and is composed of modules, where astronauts live and work, and solar panels that provide electricity to power it. It typically houses six astronauts who spend six months in space. Barstow said redundancies are built into the ISS so a catastrophic failure in one module does not compromise the crew’s survival.

He told the students that it takes about eight minutes to launch into space. Once in space, he warned the crew that it’s not unusual for astronauts to experience motion sickness as they adjust to being weightless. He suggested they carry a “barf bag” and added, “remember to close it because everything flies up here.”

Barstow took the students into the spacecraft’s cupola, a seven-window observatory from which astronauts shoot photos of the earth. On any given day, an astronaut might snap images of a California wildfire, a glacier off the southern coast of South America, and a volcano near Papua New Guinea. And all of the images taken from the rare perspective of space can help inform scientists and others on earth.

When it’s time to go home, Barstow said the 20-minute descent to earth and landing can be rough. To lessen the impact, astronauts sit in a type of tub with customized seats that were poured and molded around them. These seats minimize the vibrations of ascending to, and descending from, space and lessen the impact of landing.

Once on the ground, Barstow said astronauts are carried from their craft because six months in space can leave the body weakened and disoriented. It takes a few days for astronauts to readjust to earth’s gravity and atmosphere.

Barstow encouraged the students to consider careers that further human’s research in space. “Believe it or not, most of the jobs in this arena are not astronauts. We need smart people to build and engineer things like robots and equipment, so maybe you’ll do that some day.”

Barstow’s space field trip, which he also brought to Cedar Lane and Discover elementary schools last week, was arranged by Farmwell Station Middle School eighth-grader Bryce Hilliard, founder and CEO of Space Dreamers. Space Dreamers’ mission is to bring space education to elementary and middle schools.

dnadler@loudounnow.com

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