As the first in the US to launch a NASA-inspired space program, the Wichita school has forged a collaboration with the Space Discovery Institute to give its 485 students a chance to get hands-on with advanced aerospace technologies.
Among the program’s more ambitious ideas to get the children working with real NASA-grade equipment, is the plan for the school to receive an industry-grade lunar rover, a Mars rover, plus a space plane.
In what one can only imagine as a sci-fi like scenario, students will be learning to operate jet propulsion machinery from a functioning lab inside the plane.
Arthur Eldridge, chairman of the institute and an education ambassador for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, says this is the real deal.
“They’ll actually be learning to drive those as our jet propulsion laboratory folks do: You have to propose a plan and then fit in the mathematics that will take it from one point to another. This is real stuff,” he announces.
A former Air Force F-4 pilot and NASA flight crew instructor, Eldridge says the school was selected for the unique STEM-education program because of its strong focus on aviation and aerospace studies.
Obviously, gearing students up for a future in such industries is a key objective of the initiative, and students from other local schools and universities will be able to participate.
“We didn’t want to be confused with a ‘game show’ kind of program. This is a serious aerospace program, and Wichita is a heavy aerospace community,” Eldridge shares.
Principal Judy Wright told The Wichita Eagle that for students, the chance to use the cutting-edge devices will be a step above the plethora of scientific activities already on offer at the school.
“To actually have some shuttles out on my playground – life-size shuttles and astronaut suits that my babies can put on – and to get in there and really get the feel for being in outer space? It is just so way cool,” she enthuses.
Funded primarily by private donors and sponsors, most of the equipment will be supplied by NASA’s education branch, while donations to the Space Discovery Institute will foot the expected $100,000 installation and landscaping bill.
As part of their commitment to teaching 21st Century Skills through aerospace and engineering, the school also boasts a flight simulator, weather lab and advanced teacher training programs – all made possible by a $US 2.1 million federal grant in 2011.