OVER six days, 16-year-old Jack Nelson has been tossed around in a gravity-defying multi-axle trainer, played basketball underwater with a bowling ball, simulated landing on Mars, learned a bit of Russian and embarked on numerous other physical and mental challenges.
It was all done in the name of space science, and he loved every minute of it.
Jack, a Trident High School year 12 student, has just returned from International Space Camp in the Unitied States. One of four New Zealand students selected by the Royal Society Te Aparangi to take part in the 11-day camp, which also included a few days in Houston, Texas, he says the experience has reaffirmed his desire to study aerospace engineering.
“It was an awesome opportunity to explore space science with 100 other students from 18 countries,” he says. “I have made connections for the future, and I have come away with some awesome friendships.”
The students gathered at the United States Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, last month, where they experienced what an astronaut would face in training and in space – including mission simulations, and physical and engineering challenges. They also learned a bit of Russian – necessary for communication when you are in outer space.
The programme is designed to promote space science and exploration. “One of the lecturers was a previous student who attended the camp – and he is now an astronaut at Nasa.”
While undergoing underwater astronaut training – simulating a microgravity experience – Jack said the students played basketball with a bowling ball. “It was my first time scuba diving.”
Jack was also spun around in a multi-axle trainer, which simulates the disorientation one would feel in a capsule returning back into the Earth’s atmosphere.
But there were also engineering challenges the students had to take on. In one, Jack’s team built a mini-rocket, and launched an egg 30 metres into the air. They also had to build a shield to protect the egg being torched with gas. A parachute was deployed for it to land safely. It didn’t. “Ours landed on a gravel road, not the fields.”
The group’s problem-solving skills were put to the test in all sorts of simulated missions, from landing on Mars, to orbiting Earth and landing on a space station.
Jack says he had students from Australia, the US, Belgium, Norway and as far as Bulgaria in his group, but never found language a barrier to forming friendships and for getting tasks done.
The trip wasn’t all hard work; three days were also spent in Houston where the students visited the Natural Science Museum, zoo, aquarium and, of course, the Nasa Space Centre. “We got to see the mission control room for the Apollo 1 moon landing.”
Jack says the trip has opened his eyes to the vast possibilities in space science, and made him consider the opportunities to work in the field in the future.