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Local Sylacauga students work with NASA

SYLACAUGA, Ala. – What do most young teenagers like to do? Playing sports and video games, shopping, and hanging out with friends all come to mind, right?

However, on Wednesday, that was not the case at all. Approximately 40 local students spent their spare time doing the unthinkable: working with NASA.


That’s right. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Pinecrest Elementary, Nicholas-Lawson Middle School, and B.B. Comer Elementary students who participate in the BRIDGES after school program at First Presbyterian Church are working with NASA through the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. The CCLC was formed to help solve a national problem: the shortage of students with a mastery of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

“Most of the jobs that will be out there 10 years from now have not been invented yet, and most of them will include some form of stem,” said BRIDGES Supervisor Dorinda Waldrop. “That’s why it’s so important to get the kids involved in it early.”

The CCLC’s goal is to demonstrate the value of STEM skills both inside and outside of the classroom, which it plans to do with over 1.5 million students in all 50 states in 2017. NASA first became a partner with the DoE in 2013 and has helped students learn the relevance of STEM skills to daily life ever since. This year NASA will offer two options for unique STEM experiences: Engineering Design Challenge (EDC) and a Global Observation to Benefit Environment (GLOBE) investigation. The two experiences will allow students to work with NASA engineers and learn about STEM careers.

The local students will experience the EDC. EDC introduces students to the engineering design process so they can develop solutions to real NASA challenges, such as how to land a space craft on another planet. In fact, these local students will create their own prototype for a new “Crew Exploration Vehicle” that will carry two astronauts through a series of landing trials.

The space vehicle built by students must meet many specifications and qualifications dealing with size, weight, and shape that will challenge their STEM skills. To help prepare themselves for the building process, the students participate in video conferences with NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers who give students advice and answer questions about their designs.

Waldrop told the students have just a few weeks left to finish their prototype before it is put to the test. After a test, students will go back to the drawing board and use the engineering design process to fix all of the problems found during the trial run. Test dates are set for March 13 and 14.

Jeremy Law for | © 2017, City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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