On the afternoon of Sunday the 10th of July, we boarded a coach to London. We were to spend a week at a university with officials at NASA and former astronauts; the opportunity felt rather surreal. After a 4 hour journey, we arrived at ‘Moonraker Point’; student accommodation situated near Guy’s Campus, King’s College London.
It was here that we were designated our flat numbers and had an opportunity to socialise with other pupils undertaking the course. Many of the students were from South Wales but there were also international students from India, Spain and France. After an introduction to the programme and a visit to a restaurant, we settled down in preparation for the days ahead.
Introductions and morning sessions were held by Sarah Murray- Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics and Crew Systems at NASA. The main aim of the week was to design and propose ideas for an experiment, with the best idea being launched into space and carried out by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Together with our groups, the ‘Mission Discovery ‘ team set us tasks and challenges that served to test and refine a number of key skills. Time was allocated to independently discuss and develop ideas for our experiments. To design our experiment we also had to follow a set of criteria and constraints that included cost, size, and the limitation of interaction with the experiment by the astronauts; due to the importance of their duties elsewhere. Coping with these limitations involved using numeracy skills and allowed us the opportunity to learn how to budget. We also had to pro-actively engage with our groups regarding any identifiable changes that could be made to the experiments, following new information we were given each day.
Additionally, throughout the days, we were given lectures illustrating how space exploration benefits lives on Earth and the effect of micro-gravity on the body. Amongst a number of high class lecturers were top professionals; including Professor Steve Harridge, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology and Dr. Julie Keeble, a lecturer in Pharmacology.
We also heard from Mike Foale CBE- Former Astronaut and International Space Station Commander. His stories and escapades- including a near-fatal collision while aboard the Russian space station ‘Mir’- emphasised the NASA ‘you can do it’ spirit. His journey to becoming an incredibly successful astronaut conveyed how best to achieve dreams and ambitions, and also provided us with information that was vital when developing our experiments. In the evenings we had the opportunity to dine in local restaurants, and also to take in the sights of the sprawling city. Places of note included Tower Bridge and the London Eye; equally as spectacular in the darkness as the daylight.
After a great deal of research and preparation, our experiment ideas were finalised in time for the last day, Friday the 15th. They consisted of ‘The growth of kelp in microgravity conditions’, along with ‘The effectiveness of different types of fungicide in killing the magnaporthe oryzae fungus in microgravity’ and were to be presented to a panel of judges- including senior lectures from King’s College London and Mike Foale himself- if we were both to reach the final . Before this, we both had to face fierce competition from a number of other groups, each with incredibly in depth ideas and reasoning. Both our groups passed through the heats and entered into the final. We were required to give an 8 minute presentation in front of the panel of judges and over 65 pupils from around the world. In the end, we finished as finalists- losing out only narrowly to a team that focused on the growth of mycobacteria. Despite this, the experience was extremely enlightening; we developed presentation and team building skills that will no doubt benefit us highly in the future.
With regards to going to university, a relatively close prospect, it did indeed aid in ideas for future plans and possibly job prospects. The sheer amount of topics and skills that were developed will hopefully prove to be a positive addition to any career that we choose to follow- not only restricted to the region of astrophysics and space travel.
-Noah Evans and Daniel Schoen, Year 12