Elementary students get a taste of space at Discovery Museum

By: Lauren Gibbs, The Placer Herald
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A group of Rocklin students remembered the 25-year anniversary of the day the Challenger exploded, killing all seven people on board the space shuttle, with a mission of their own. The Sunset Ranch Elementary class took on the challenge of building and launching a study probe into Comet Halley’s tail during a simulated space mission. Launching a probe in the comet was the unfinished mission of the Challenger crew. On Jan. 28, when the Rocklin students arrived at the Discovery Museum’s Science & Space Center in Sacramento, they first had a briefing on what their mission in space would involve. Students were then divided into two teams and each student was given a job. Half of the class prepared for their launch into space while the other half acted as Mission Control on Earth. Halfway though the mission, the teams switched places, giving each student an opportunity to be in “space” and on Earth. With blue vests on, students entered the space transporter hallway, where sounds of the shuttle taking off played and red lights flashed – as if they were actually being transported into space. Then it was into the airlock, which transported students into the spacecraft. Each student astronaut had a station, from the communications desk and life support team to the medical team. Fifth-graders Gabriela Romero and Lauren Gooler were at the remote station on the spacecraft, where they collected plant samples from space and worked with Mission Control’s remote team to determine if the plants were hazardous to Earth. Each student had a hands-on job – some students were putting their science knowledge to the test. While checking the humidity levels in the spacecraft, the life support team sent their data to Mission Control, who in turn determined there was an emergency in the spacecraft. Red lights flashed and sirens sounded as Mission Control figured out how the astronauts needed to proceed. “It’s in life support’s hands,” said Catherine Gray, director of the Challenger Learning Center at the Discovery Museum. “It’s up to life support to keep us alive.” It was determined that there was too much static electricity in the air, which could crash the computers. The life support team members then instructed each astronaut to discharge the static electricity by grabbing the medal bars inside the shuttle. Meanwhile, fifth-graders Kamrin Baird and Hailey Andson, part of the medical team, were making sure astronauts’ eyes and heart rates were in good shape. Halfway through the mission, the two teams switched places – giving each student the opportunity to step onto the space shuttle. The Sacramento Challenger Learning Center in the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center is one of 49 centers in the U.S. designed as a living memorial for the seven Challenger astronauts, one of which was a teacher. In addition to the mock mission, the Sunset Ranch Elementary fifth-grade class also prepared presentations on the history of the Challenger and astronauts aboard. Even though Friday marked the anniversary of the Challenger accident, the simulated missions are conducted daily at the Sacramento center, according to Beth Callahan, director of marketing and development for the museum. The center also launches corporate teambuilding missions for adults. For more information on the center, go to