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'Space Day' Seeks to Inspire Next Generation - 2003-05-10


It was "Space Day" on May 1 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The "day" actually kicked off what will be a month of activities across the United States, Canada and other countries all designed to pay tribute to space exploration. Space Day is also meant to inspire the next generation of inventors, engineers and aviators to pursue humanity's destiny in space.

The National Air and Space Museum is a cavernous building, large enough for jet aircraft, rockets and space capsules. It is here in a hall, among milestones in the history of flight, that students from across North America, competitors in the Space Day 2003 Design Challenge, gather to show off their winning models of aircraft of the future.

They are welcomed by "Space Day," co-chair John Glenn. The former astronaut and U.S. Senator passed an honorary space baton to 11-year-old Nick Smedira of University School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "We pass this baton to you and I hope that some day that you will be standing here where I am, passing the baton on to another whole new generation of scientists and aviators, inventors and explorers. Congratulations to you and to all of you. Thank you," he said.

Nick Smedira and five teammates, who call themselves the "Spacers", win the "Most Creative" honor at the Space Day Design Challenge. They have built a flying-wing shaped airplane that runs on ethanol fuel.

Smedira:: "We all had different jobs. Mine was mission specialist two. Michael was mission specialist one. Charles was the ambassador. Alex was an artist. Kevin joined our group late. He was a very good builder. And David was an artist with Alex."
Skirble: "What did you like about working on this project? Who can answer that?"
Student: "You could go anywhere, infinite possibilities!"
Student: "I think that our choice of engines and fuel was a big reason we won for "Most Creative" [design]."
Student: "Our original idea was for it to run off an engine which was just a film canister with a lid attached to wires that ended in a button and you push the button to create a spark. We put a couple drops of ethanol and shake it up and the fumes would ignite and the actual day we tested it and the engine wouldn't work, but we tested it again afterwards, and it did."
Skirble: "What did you know about all of this before you started?"
Student: "Before we started the project we knew nothing. I hadn't even heard of ethanol. I think we learned a whole lot."

"Spacers" advisor and science teacher Karen Godenschwater couldn't agree more. She says over the last six months which is what it took to research, design, build and test the craft the all-boy team learned more than space science.

Godenschwater: "They had a focus. They are working on what I call the education of tomorrow. If we are going to bring students together in a way that they can work in industry and science, we have to put them into groups and give them challenges, real challenges that they can work through as a team."
Skirble: "What did it take to put this all together?"
Godenschwater: I'd like to say that it was easy. But, it wasn't. We had to scratch our heads at times. But every time I had talked to someone in the field of science they would say to me, 'You need an educator to teach children to work as a team.' You have to be able to tolerate a storming period where people are trying to figure out how to take six independent minds and bring them together on one idea teaching children to listen to each other, that someone else may have a good idea that can contribute too is a part of education, a part of science."

Not to be outdone by the all-boy team, an all-girl team from Birmingham, Alabama, called the "Super Sneaky Girls" took top honors for their camouflaged aircraft design. The plane has a foam-based fuselage covered with fiberglass and looks like a shark, that is if you could see it! The model is painted with neon blue and silver fingernail polish that would make it hard to spot in the sky. But can it fly? "This is a design model. It would work in real life," says Ella Sorscher.

Skirble: "What are your expectations for this model?"
Sorscher: "I think it would be very successful if it were built. It generates lift really well!"
Skirble: "So, is there an airplane in your future?"
Sorscher: "I hope so."

Walking through the gallery where the students stand with their models, former astronaut John Glenn stops to encourage the youngsters and to listen to what they have to say. Earlier from the podium he says these young people represent our future. "They will one day realize exciting possibilities that we can now only imagine," he says.

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