Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ISAS 2012 Academy 1 Day 3: Ames Research Center

The students' day began even earlier today to make it through the Boise Airport (BOI) in time for the eight o' clock flight to San Jose. After sack breakfasts in the resident hall hobby, loading onto the charter bus, and making it successfully through security, everyone was on their way to NASA Ames. ISAS even had one student traveling by plane for his first time. The group arrived in San Jose around 9:00 PST, dropped their luggage off at The Quality Inn & Suites and let their quest at NASA Ames begin.

The students started the visit at the Ames Visitor Center, where the students were able to view different displays such as moon rocks brought to Earth by Apollo 11 and an interactive lecture on the universe. Other students, as well as staff, were in the gift shop buying items both for themselves and for their family members back home. 

After the students had viewed all of the exhibits, both students and staff were guided into Ames by Tom Clausen, Director of Education, and arrived at the cafeteria on base: MegaBites. The students were able to luncheon amongst soldiers and NASA scientists as well as visit a secondary gift shop.

Directly after lunch, the students were divided into two groups. Green Team and White Team comprised Team A while Blue and Red made up Team B. Each group headed towards two separate buildings: the Crew Vehicle Systems Research Facility and the Aviation Systems Division.

In the Crew-Vehicle Systems Research Facility (CVSRF)  the students were allowed to enter two different flight simulators used by NASA to study how pilots operate while flying. The students thoroughly enjoyed not only going into these simulators but seeing them in action while “flying” around the Bay Area. Students and NASA directors smiled and chatted happily as the students had the opportunity to experience what very few individuals are even allowed to see, let alone touch. 

In the Aviation Systems Division, the students were shown the simulated Los Angeles (LAX) Airport, from the perspective of the control tower, and were impressed by the ability of the tower to see all the runways on the other side of the simulated airport. The students were also impressed by how life-like the snow, rain, and fog simulations were in the tower. Even more realistic was a simulated voyage they witnessed from LA to the surface of Mars. The simulation was able to put into better perspective what conditions the students would have to prepare for once their “team” got to the surface of the red planet.

Afterward, the students were taken to a different building were they met Natalie Batalha from San Jose State University. Natalie lectured the students on the Kepler telescope project and its mission of searching for other Earth-sized planets outside of our solar system. Many students, and staff, had great questions about the use of the Doppler Effect in order to search for planets and whether said planets were gaseous or solid. This lecture was given in an auditorium comprised of not only our Idaho students, but of many students ranging from high school to upperclassmen college students, from all of the United States.

The next even today was one of the highest anticipated events of the trip. The students were taken to the breath-taking 80x120 wind tunnel. This wind tunnel, the largest in the world, is 80 feet high by 120 feet wide and it has been where NASA has tested many objects such as: shuttle parachutes, shuttle models, and even an F-18 Blue Angels jet. The students also found out that many of the chutes tested in the wind tunnel were also dropped over their own state of Idaho during further testing. The students were also allowed to go into the wind tunnel as well as witness how the wind tunnel functioned both by itself and with the attached 40x80 wind tunnel.  Students and staff then had group photos taken professionally and got the choice between either taking some time to relax and play volleyball, or go see a robotics demonstration.

It was then time for a catered dinner followed by a question and answer session with several of NASA Ames' top scientists; Chris McKay, middle school teacher Dana Blackman, Brian Day, Brad Bebout, Nathalie Cabrol, Natalie Batalha and Mark Kliss. The students were able to ask everything from ideas for their portion of the trip to Mars research, to college plans, to any other space questions. A lot of what was discussed was inspired by Natalie Bathala's earlier lecture to the students on the Kepler mission. The hour passed by quickly and the students were asking questions back to back and raising their hands high, in hopes they'd be the next person called on. By the end of the hour, the students were still engaged, and so were the scientists. Conversations started between various scientists and students about individual college concerns. Some asked personal question about confusion in what to major in. Other discussed college admission issues and how to over come that. By far, however, the biggest conversational topic was about how they, as students, could eventually come and intern or work for NASA.

Regardless of all of the wonderful lessons the students learned today, one of the other great things to watch was the students coming together as not only peers, but as friends. Walking between students jokes were being told. The nose-goes game had developed into a humorous activity and students laughed about project ideas, college admissions and standardized tests. Today not only helped inspire future careers, but also gave many students new friends that understand their same love of math and science.

At the end of the day, the students went back to the hotel tired and happy. They each grabbed their room key, found out their roommate for the night and fell asleep with no problems.

These blogs will continue to be uploaded daily, once the students have completed their final activities each night. A more "live" version of the days' events are being uploaded onto the ISAS Summer Academy Facebook group and page, as well as to Twitter at #ISAS_Academy. The students are eager to continue exploring Ames Research Center and have another busy day ahead of them.  

-- Heidi Hughes, Jaime Guevara -- 

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