Preparing for Launch at NASA

Preparing for Launch at NASA
Posted on 07/09/2015

By Ashley M. Streebig, Science Teacher at Snow Hill High School

Have you got what it takes to be a rocket scientist? I asked myself this question when I participated in NASA’s Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers and Students (WRATS) last month.

As a science teacher at Snow Hill High School, my primary focus is in the life sciences, but even with little background in rockets or engineering, I couldn’t resist being a part of an experience that not only personally inspired me, but would enrich my teaching when students return in the fall.

I arrived at Wallops Flight Facility on June 22, where Chief of the NASA Sounding Rockets Program Office, Philip Eberspeaker, kicked off the weeklong workshop. This was surreal, not only because of the 70th anniversary of NASA at Wallops, but because it was reminiscent of my grandfather’s history as an electrical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

Our diverse group of 20 educators learned how rockets fly using physics and theoretical design concepts. We used calculus and geometry skills in our work to support those concepts. We then began putting those concepts into practice by building our own model rockets, equipped with a payload designed to collect atmospheric data during its launch. I must share that independently wiring the circuits and writing a program to test the circuit design for the payload were equal parts thrilling and intense!

In addition to our projects, my fellow educators and I were granted access to a number of worksites at Wallops Flight Facility, including where the Antares Rocket, scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in early 2016, is currently under construction.

Our group also had a front row seat to the launch of the Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket on June 25. The rocket was launched successfully, carrying a payload of experiments created by students through NASA’s RockOn/RockSat-C program for higher education students.

All of these inspiring experiences have transformed my outlook of classroom teaching. In this time of growing innovation, I think it’s important that instruction is presented to our students in a way that highlights the practical, real-world applications of the concepts we are teaching. This approach is reinforced in the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, which the county is currently incorporating into our science curriculum.

Tying in with the county’s efforts, the Academy’s goal is that participating teachers will begin to "STEM-ify" their lessons, meaning incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics into lessons across content. I also think that this program provides a fleet of teachers who can inspire students to pursue career pathways that they may not have considered - like rocket science. I look forward to sharing my experience with my students when they return to our school this September, and I also hope to inspire them to participate in any one of NASA’s programs.

If you have any questions about the NASA WRATS, RockOn/RockSAT-C or other educational programs at Wallops Flight Facility, please visit http://education.wff.nasa.gov/. Thank you.