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Six Upper School students at the Academy of the Sacred Heart participated in the STEM Sisters trip at NASA's Space University at Johnson Space Center in Houston from February 18-23. Presented by Visions in Education, the annual international event is a five-day engineering mission designed to teach students the most essential aspects of planetary exploration. Sacred Heart students worked cooperatively with students from Sandbach High School and College in Chesire, UK.
Through the STEM Sisters experience, students learned what is required to design, build, and test a rocket to launch into orbit, including designing, creating, and testing thermal and cryo tiles to keep the astronauts safe during launch and in orbit. They were then tasked with constructing a model Martian habitat. Using VEX Robotics, student teams designed, built, and coded a rover to run two courses. The first course tested the coding while maneuvering across a landscape with varied terrain. The second course required communication within the team to pick up various rocks across a diverse landscape, bringing them back to the habitat within seven minutes. All of these activities were completed within safety regulations, materials, and a 600 million dollar budget that is representative of the real NASA world.
Outside of the normal challenges, STEM Sisters participants visited the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), where astronauts train for EVA's (extravehicular activities), which mimics microgravity on Earth. There, they saw two astronauts ingressing into the pool to train on the International Space Station (ISS) mock-up in the NBL. After their visit, students were able to scuba dive in a pool building an airlock and retrieving rocks for their team using a tool.
Students also had the opportunity to meet several astronauts. As astronauts from the International Space Station debriefed Expeditions 51-53, they shared pictures, stories, and accomplishments from their time in space. On the final day of the STEM Sisters trip, students met Anna Lee Fisher, who discussed how she became an astronaut and her experiences during space travel and on the ground. She then answered questions from students.