‘Mission Accomplished’ for GES fifth-graders

by nathan oster
The fifth graders at Greybull Elementary School spent part of the day Wednesday learning the thrills, challenges and rewards of discovery during a Challenger Learning Center space simulation project.
Challenger Learning Centers are the teaching model of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which was formed shortly after the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, the family members of the lost crew came together, firmly committed to carrying on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger’s educational mission.
According to the Challenger Web site, “They envisioned a place where children, teachers and citizens alike could touch the future, manipulate equipment, conduct experiments, solve problems and work together — immersing themselves in space-like surroundings.
“The goal: to spark youth interest and joy in science and engineering, a spark that could change their lives.”
GES fifth-grade teacher Kim Curtis said she received an email in September, asking if her classroom would like to be involved in a NASA mission.
She accepted — and when NASA learned that there were just 34 total students in the two fifth-grade classrooms, Nathan Boyer’s students were also invited to participate.
Before the mission, Curtis and Boyer needed to prepare their students for the type of work that would be required of them in the space simulation project with the Challenger Learning Center based in Colorado.
In advance of the simulation, students trained for four specific jobs so that they would be able to leave their outpost and rescue a lost exploration ship that had lost contact with the command center.
There were communications specialists in direct contact, via Skype, with Mission Control. They were responsible for relaying messages from each team.
Transmission specialists were responsible for decoding messages sent from the distant outposts on five different planets (Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn and Pluto).
Navigation specialists were in charge of plotting the route that the lost space craft may have taken, using an X/Y axis.
Cargo specialists had to determine the amount of supplies needed to make the rescue.
When the big day arrived, Curtis and Boyer didn’t need to do much. Each of the students was assigned tasks to complete, falling within the realm of the four jobs they had learned about.
After two hours, that mission was accomplished when the missing ship was found a short distance from Saturn. Students watched with pride as a NASA video showed astronauts being transferred from the missing spaceship onto one that had come to rescue them.
“Three of the kids told me, ‘This was the best day I’ve ever had in school!’” Curtis recalled. “For me, it was a fun thing to watch. The kids learned how to work as a team and how to collaborate.
“This program is just great. I think the kids realized why they are learning math and reading, and how to apply the things that they learn.”