Longview ISD Foundation, Inc. Partners with LISD’s Magnet School Assistance Program Grant to Send Ned E. Williams Magnet STEAM Academy’s Fourth and Fifth Graders
to Johnston Space Center NASA
by Kay Ray, Executive Director, Longview ISD Foundation, Inc.
Ned E. Williams Magnet STEAM Academy focuses on engineering with teachers instructing students using a project-based learning approach.  Students are engaged in hands-on learning to develop knowledge and skills.  Students are presented with driving questions to investigate and solve, but to formulate these questions, they need access to authentic learning experiences.  To give students an authentic learning experience, Christina Eagan, teacher, wrote a John W. Harrison, Jr. Academic Field Trip Grant offered by the Longview ISD Foundation, Inc. so that students could learn about the past, present, and future of America’s space flight program.   The Longview ISDs Foundation provided $2,163.00 and partnered with Longview ISD and its Magnet School Assistance Program Grant to fund the students’ trip to NASA on Friday, February 14.
Students Aaron Ashley, Kennadi Curry. Quincy Davis, Khian Hayes, Pablo Landaverde, Ty’Reanna Lynn,  and Amaria Manning were eager to explain what they had learned.
Excited students ate breakfast in the school’s cafeteria and then boarded three charter busses at 5:30 AM.  Arriving at NASA at 9:30 AM, students divided into groups with teachers and chaperones to tour NASA.  Travelling by tram throughout the NASA complex, students saw rockets five stories taller than the Statue of Liberty and watched from the Mission Control Center as flight controllers performed space simulations. At one exhibit, the students were asked to lie on a platform and experience what astronauts experience in space.  One student said it was a shaky feeling.  They viewed the inside of a space capsule and learned that the astronauts sleep in a zippered sleeping bag attached to the wall.  Astronauts can work out in space and floss their teeth, but one student explained that brushing one’s teeth is quite different from what she does on earth.  The astronauts can’t use water and must swallow the toothpaste.  All their food is packaged, and one student said she ate an ice cream sandwich at NASA like the ones the astronauts eat and reported that it was tasty. 

While they were impressed with what they had learned during those parts of the tour, they were most excited about NASA’s planned trip to Mars. The students explained that the Artemis program will land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 to explore more of the lunar service than has ever been explored before.  After they travel 250,000 miles to the moon, astronauts will have living quarters and laboratories for research inside the Lunar Gateway, a small spaceship that will orbit the moon. The moon will serve as a way station for expeditions to Mars aboard the Orion spacecraft.  Students viewed mock-ups of the International Space Station and saw the scientists using robots like the ones they have built at school.  They also saw scientists brainstorming and problem-solving to determine what types of fabrics could be used for the astronauts’ spacesuits for the mission.
The students, however, were most intrigued with the news that their generation, children ages six to seventeen, might colonize Mars.  With that revelation, the students were eager to explain what they had learned about Mars:  temperatures that can reach 200 degrees below zero, the lack of oxygen, the lack of protection from the sun’s radiation, the lack of water, and dust storms.  They reported that if they lived on Mars, they would live mostly indoors.  Going outside would require a spacesuit and oxygen.  Once outside they would be vulnerable to asteroid strikes because about two hundred asteroids a year hit Mars.

Students then engaged in a lively discussion of their desire to go to Mars.  While some, especially two girls who were eager to go, the rest of the group was hesitant.  One student said he learned that Mars had dangerous black holes on its service, and he might fall into one.  Others worried about what they would eat since plants cannot grow on Mars due to the lack of oxygen and water.  They discussed whether they could have pets on Mars and decided that even the pets would need a pet spacesuit.  They discussed what type of sports they could have on Mars since recreation would most likely need to be indoors.  At NASA they learned that they might have to wear diapers on Mars and that those diapers would need to be recyclable as would human waste.  They also learned that all trash will be shot back to earth.  The conversation turned to recycling as the students learned at NASA that there would be no landfills on Mars, so the scientists know that everything must be recyclable.  As they learned, the small things about human living must be addressed before people can live on Mars.  The students built their own rockets from paper and participated in challenges to see who could launch their rocket the farthest into space.  One student said she applied enough pressure to launch hers to the moon. 

Now back at school, the students are thinking about what it would be like to live on the moon or another planet and are designing their visions of future colonies. Students will be able to explain the factors that will influence their designs.  

On the trip home, the students enjoyed dinner at Golden Corral in Lufkin, another highlight of the trip according to the students.

The Longview ISD Foundation is convinced some of these students are adventurous and curious enough to go to Mars someday.  In fact, one girl said she was going!