Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ISAS Day 2: Rockets, Robots, and Beyond

Because the students had an early wake up call, they were still somewhat asleep when walking over to the Boise State University Engineering Building this morning. However, they were clearly excited to listen to the lecture by Alan Ladwig from NASA's office of communications and to experience the first full day of the academy. Alan Ladwig's briefing dealt with the following topics.

The Fiscal Budget for 2011 for NASA
 Shuttle funding and Launches
The International Space Station
Climate Change
Space Science
Human Exploration
Commercial Cargo/ crew
Technology Development
Prizes and Competitions for new ideas
Public Interest
Humans to Asteroids by 2025
STEM Education
Space Tourism

Following the briefing, the students were introduced to their mentors. The mission parameters were presented clearly and the students departed the lecture room to design their team's logos and patches. Immediately the students hunched around one another and bombarded the computers with brainstorms, compromises, and ideas. Although the teams had a time limit of thirty minutes, they all successfully managed to design the requested patches/logos and immediately headed back down to the lecture room to hear from Dave Marquart. Dave Marquart gave the four different teams their team objectives and restated that the teams need to cooperate with one another in order to meet the main objective of the weeklong academy; configure a realistic mission for man to go to Mars and return. The students were clearly having a good time and began joking with the leaders and one another. When Dave Marquart questioned what the students knew about space laws, a voice shouted from the back of the room, "you mean gravity?". Even the mentors couldn't help but crack a smile.
Dillon Irminger taking charge during a brainstorm session
When Dave Marquart's presentation finished, Superintendent Tom Luna addressed the room and encouraged the students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers and to continue their educations. When discussing the purpose of the ISAS Summer Academy, Superintendent Luna emphasized the importance of participating in 'hands on experiences'  in order to increase education, "The opportunity to actually apply what you are learning, to me, has always been a great tool for learning." The discussion took an interesting turn when Superintendent Luna prompted the students to ask him questions about education or extracurricular activities which could benefit students attempting to pursue STEM careers. The students asked highly engaging questions ranging from math and science courses offered by schools to early graduation. The students' questions were very advanced and Superintendent Luna was happy to answer. All in the room benefitted from the discussion.

"The opportunity to actually apply what you are learning, to me, has always been a great tool for learning."
-- Superintendent Tom Luna
During the lunch break, Boise State's Engineering Student Support Coordinator Leandra Aburusa-Lete and many students came to talk about their personal experiences in engineering, research, NASA's Microgravity University, and other activities . The ISAS students listened intently, many even putting down their plates of food to better focus on what the BSU students had to say. The lunch was finalized by an address from the Dean of Engineering at Boise State University, Dr. Cheryl Schrader, who encouraged the students to take advantage of the many opportunities and mentors available to them during this week-long experience.

With the lunch concluded, the ISAS community traversed back across campus and towards the Engineering Building. Once they arrived, the students broke up into their separate groups to better organize their respective objectives. However, behind the intense organization, each student was bristling with anticipation for the robotics lecture by Woody from the Discovery Center of Idaho.

After Woody led a concise lesson on how to set up the robots, the students quickly broke out and started putting the robot kits (supplied by Micron) together. The students spent nearly two hours huddled close together following the directions and toying with the wiring of each robot. Many different students took charge and displayed impressive leadership skills when organizing the function of the individual teams. When dinnertime rolled around the robots had to be rolled away, much to the chagrin of many students. Many thought that it was amazing how quickly the time flew by. After all, for most of the groups, there was still a lot of programming to do.
One of the robots being assembled
After dinner the students listened to two lectures on the ethics of engineering and overall ethics in the workplace. The lectures brought to light many ethical dilemmas that many will have to tackle when they are out working on their own. Each group also gave presentations over certain aspects of their objectives. Some of these presentations, though having been put together in a short amount of time, were very detailed with hand-drawn animations and skit performances.

Following the presentations the students broke off into their groups in order to program their robots further and finish the night by designing and testing rover vehicles to safely protect an egg as it is dropped from either a staircase or ladder. The actual egg drop competition will be held on Thursday after the student return from Ames Research Center. This activity further tested the different teams' organization, ingenuity, and further increased the cohesiveness of the ISAS community. It is apparent from any passerby that these students are beginning to come together and form true friendships which will benefit them this weekend, throughout college, and possibly in NASA. This academy is not intended solely as an academic experience, but one where students from all around Idaho who have interests in STEM activities and careers can come together as a community.

These blogs will continue to be posted every evening.  A more "live" version of the days' events are being uploaded onto the ISAS: Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars' facebook page.

--Andrew Schrader and Jaime Guevara--

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