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Teachers Train as Astronauts

A new school year has already begun in Bangalore, India, and physics teacher Vishu Nair is telling her curious students about Honeywell Space Camp that she attended in Huntsville, Alabama, along with 264 other teachers from around the world.

"We've done a lot of activities in the Space Camp," she says. "We attended mock missions, learned how to make bottle rockets. The same knowledge can be associated with math, science, physics, chemistry and even with the English language."

Math teacher Kenneth Osborne says he can't wait until classes resume at his high school in Gourock, Scotland, to tell his students about his favorite activity. "We got to do the space walk. I got to put on the space suit and carry out instructions. So I think I enjoyed that the most."

Valerie Sorge is project manager for Honeywell Solutions, the company that selects the participants for Honeywell Space Camp. "These teachers are really the best educators of the best, worldwide," she says. "We received close to 1,000 applications and we selected the ones that we really knew were going to be able to take the lessons and execute them in their classrooms. We have teachers from a total of 43 U.S states and 21 countries. They really represent every area. We have teachers from Cameroon, Bangladesh, Chile, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, India, United Kingdom, Hungary, China, Japan, and South Africa."

She says each teacher was part of a 16-member team. "Collectively together, they have to execute missions, participate in astronaut training exercises, including high-performance jet stimulation, scenario-based space missions, land and water survival training, and state of the art flying dynamics," she says. "It is all based on science and math education. So they can participate in doing the one-sixth gravity chair, which is the experience as if they were on the moon and how to work in that kind of environment. They also have activities such as space gardening."

During the camp, Sorge says, teachers also had the chance to meet space celebrities like veteran astronaut Story Musgrave and Homer Hickam, who wrote Rocket Boys, the inspiration for the movie October Sky. "These are icons to math and science teachers. I mean, to meet with Story Musgrave and have that experience, they were thrilled," she says. "To have conversations with them and hear what their experience was, what it was like to be on those missions is very unique."

The teachers also had a chance to talk with each other and exchange views on various education systems around the world. Kenneth Osborne says he found that interaction very beneficial to him, as a new teacher.

"I'm only 22 years old. I've only been teaching for one year," he says. "To get this experience at such an early stage of my career is a massive bonus. It was the ultimate experience. It really energizes you and makes you want to teach even more."

Even after 13 years in the classroom, Indian physics teacher Vishu Nair agrees. She says what she learned at space camp inspired her to adopt a more interactive teaching style.

"Actually the performance in the classroom has improved a lot because normally it was not dynamic," she says. "We have a TV screen in the classroom, which we used it to show them models. But now I started to make the children think also."

When teachers are that energized and enthusiastic, it's easy for them to inspire their students to pursue careers in science, math and engineering, fields that are especially important in the space industry. Honeywell's Valerie Sorge says that's the ultimate goal of the annual teachers' space camp.

Teachers who are interested in joining the program next year can apply in September, at .