COLUMBIA — After working in space on the International Space Station, Grant Hendrix was on the last leg of his mission.
Hendrix piloted the space shuttle toward the runway at the Kennedy Space Center. Just as he was about to touch down, he realized the plane was not perfectly lined up causing him to quickly turn the shuttle. Landing on only one wheel, the shuttle tilted and scraped the heat panels off the wing, narrowly escaping disaster.
Hendrix is a member of CASA, the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association, which gives him the opportunity to experience, through simulations like the shuttle landing, what it would be like to be a part of NASA.
Students at Hickman High School can take a class and join students from around Missouri in the aerospace club, which takes place outside school hours. This year's mission marks the 22nd year of CASA.
Hendrix, a junior at Hickman, is one of three students on the Kewpies swim team who have joined CASA. Hendrix has been swimming for three years and has qualified for the state meet the past two years in the 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle events.
After hearing about the class and club from Hendrix, junior Cameron Ward and sophomore Conner Moore decided to join as well. Ward's events include the 500 freestyle and 200 individual medley, while Moore swims the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.
Hendrix, who hopes to attend the Air Force Academy, was first fascinated by the subject of aerospace after hearing about it from his family.
“My dad’s cousin is really the one who got me interested,” Hendrix said. “He is a design engineer at an air force base in Florida. He told me about the things he does there, and it sounded really cool. He builds robots and works on various air force equipment and that intrigued me.”
Moore also hopes to gain experience and learn more about the field of engineering from the club.
“I have always had an interest in planes,” Moore said. “I want to go to the military and do something involving engineering, so I thought that this would be a fun class to take, while learning along the way.”
Throughout the class, the students are practicing and preparing for a six-day, five-night mission that will be presented to them in February. The mission takes place in a separate building on Hickman's campus that is equipped with simulations of a shuttle, space station, control room and a mechanical arm similar to ones they use in NASA. Whether it is docking the shuttle, or fixing part of the station, the mission requires the students to think critically as they are given various obstacles to overcome.
“The mission is definitely the best part of CASA,” Hendrix said. “There’s nothing to compare it to. The problem solving is a lot of fun, because you have to go deeper and get creative in order to fix the problem and make everything go smoothly.”
Problems the students face range anywhere from medical emergencies to fixing oxygen levels in the shuttle.
"It's amazing how hands on the missions are," Ward said. "The students are in charge of everything and completely responsible for what happens."
Because the swim team does not spend a lot of time together outside of the pool, it is good for the team to hang out some place different than practice, according to Hendrix.
“Being with the guys and seeing each other more often just helps us form stronger bonds,” Moore said. “The more we get to know each other, the more we will connect with each other and build more support for the team.”
The Kewpies compete Saturday in the DeSmet Invitational at 3 p.m. at the Rec-Plex facility in St. Peters.