Bestowed with a truly exciting opportunity, 21 honors Biology students from Warren were given the chance to be the absolute first to test out the new Challenger Center Space Mission Simulator on Dec. 9.The Challenger Center Space Mission Simulator, a part of the Challenger Learning Center at the two-month old Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, will not be open for regular missions until January. However, Jeff Orlinsky, a science teacher at Warren, had certain connections with those in the space center, and grasped the opportunity to be the "trainer of the trainers." Thus, the group of Warren students acted as a test run for those at the Space Center that were training to run the program. "I think this is a great opportunity for our students to get another aspect of the city," said Orlinsky. "It allows us to be a part of something new here at Downey." The Challenger Center Space Mission Simulator is yet another method in which the Columbia Memorial Space Center fulfills their mission and purpose. "We are trying to help the youth make decisions for careers in technology and engineering, and continue through college," said Jon Betthauser, the executive director of the space center. "There are so many interesting careers in aerospace, but you have to imagine going to space before you actually do so, or start working on it in reality." The students also recognized it as a thrilling experience, and anticipated the occasion with high expectations, expectations that were not unappeased by the end of the trip. "I'm very excited for this trip because I'm excited to work with professionals and learn about space," said student Emilia Halasz. This mission simulator basically transforms students into "astronauts", as they undergo similar situations that an authentic astronaut in space would face. Facilitated by approximately 10 trainees, who went through the stimulator themselves during their own training, the run-through of the space mission simulator went smoothly and efficiently. The students were at first split into different teams, such as Navigation, Data, and Communication, with different specific jobs for each group. These teams were further separated into two, where one group went into the Missions Control Room, while the other went into the space craft. Even within these groups, the students learned how to work together as one cohesive unit to solve various life-threatening emergencies and hardships in order to accomplish their goal, and successfully land on the moon to establish a permanent moon base. The operation was executed as authentically as possible, as the spacecraft astronauts even had their own space suits to put on before entering their space craft. Television screens also displayed from time to time the results of their work, as images of the earth and the moon captured the students' attentions. Every student was either on a computer, machine, or intercom, and was responsible for certain tasks. In addition, the students received little help in their tasks, as they were encouraged to act independently to complete the challenge. The students completed their goal at the end of the challenge as they efficiently landed on the moon, and a round of applause erupted from both students and the facilitators. After the end of the program, the students merged again into one body, and discussed what they had thought about their experience and what they had learned. Positive feedback and various remarks about teamwork and communication emerged during the discussion. "This place is awesome," said freshman Matt Pacheco. "The simulator was really interesting." "I was excited to do this program, and I was looking forward to it," said sophomore Elida Zaragoza. "It was cool to be able to look through the cameras and watch people in the spacecrafts." Many students had similar reactions to that of Pacheco and Zaragoza. However, some students realized the program was more difficult than they had anticipated. "It was harder than I thought," said freshman Vanessa Chacom. "It was confusing at first, but at the end with some help of the facilitators, things got easier." Overall, the first-ever Challenger mission was a success, as both the students and the space center trainees benefited through this experience. In addition, several students were interested in volunteering at the space center, as Betthauser notified the students of the newly available volunteering opportunities. "Student volunteers are an essential part of operating this science center, particularly in the robotics lab," said Betthauser, as he encourages those students who are interested in volunteering.
********** Published: December 18, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 35