EDWARDS AFB — Sixty local middle school students delved into the world of rocket science with a visit to Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate April 19.
From lessons on chemical propellants to seeing actual rocket boosters that were launched, the 8th-graders from Discovery School in Lancaster got a whirlwind tour of the “Rocket Lab.”
The learning experience was part of the propulsion directorate’s education outreach in conjunction with President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is meant to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. The president is joining with cities and towns, businesses, and foundations who are taking steps to connect young people to mentoring, support networks, and the skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way into the middle class.
The president also has stressed the importance of expanding science, technology, engineering and math programs for young people.
“We are trying to inspire junior high school students to become scientists and engineers,” said Kriss Vanderhyde, AFRL Education Outreach manager. “We found that the best way to do that is to get them out to one our sites, get them to do some hands-on functions like building rockets and show them what kinds of things are possible in an engineering and science career.”
The day began at the Rocket Lab’s Heritage Room, where the children got up close and personal with old rocket boosters and engines, some both used and tested at Edwards.
Next were tours of the Chemical Laboratory and Electric Propulsion Lab.
After lunch provided by the school, the hands-on part of the tour began, with students being separated into groups or “program management teams.” Each group was to build a rocket out of a two-liter soda bottle, tape and manila folders.
“We’re known as the ‘field trip school’ and we focus a lot on the Antelope Valley’s history and places because it’s in our backyard,” said Stephanie Faber, Discovery School teacher. “Discovery School has an AVID and STEM based curriculum. For our 8th graders, we have three modules and one of them is Flight in Space.”
After all the rockets were built and inspected, each of them were filled with some water and placed on a launch pad where they were pressurized. Then the countdown began and the rockets were launched into the stratosphere. In this case, the stratosphere was about 100 feet off the ground. The intent was to show students that learning is limitless.
“It isn’t really that hard to get there, they just need a little inspiration. That’s what we’re trying to do; providing that inspiration to get them on track and maybe get them to think, ‘hey, this science and engineering is really not bad, maybe I should check it out,'” Vanderhyde said.
After the rocket challenge, the students finished off the day with a chemistry demonstration by AFRL scientists.