To the moon and beyond

Hickman students add to mock space program
Friday, February 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Red lights appear on the control board, indicating there is a simulated emergency on the mock space shuttle at Hickman High School.

The student astronauts find the problem: a water pipe has burst in the floor. Water sporadically sprays students as they try to fix the pipe, but the directions are in German. The group, under the leadership of space commander Hector May, a Hickman senior, decides to send the directions to their control base for translation as they cover nearby electronic equipment.

This is just one of the many simulated onboard emergencies student astronauts are facing this week through the Columbia Aeronautic and Space Association. The CASA mission launched Monday and will end Saturday.

Students known as “ninjas” are responsible for simulating emergencies aboard the mock space craft by entering codes into a computer.

“We give the astronauts things to do,” said senior Nick Ball, an on-duty ninja.

May said the purpose of their mock mission is to “see what works and doesn’t in space.”

For 17 years, students have converted the inside of an old auto building behind the school to replicate a real space station, complete with a smaller model of NASA’s International Space Station Alpha. Each year, new additions are made and new research is conducted on the mission.

This year’s mission includes a new lunar outpost, which is set up in the school’s commons area. The outpost was created by seniors Clarence Daly and Travis Bailey.

The purpose of the lunar outpost, Daly said, is to take the mission “beyond the station.” The computers at the lunar outpost are connected to the computers at mission control so that they can communicate with each other. However, Daly said they have been experiencing “communication problems.”

Rachel Maerz, a junior, is studying hydroponics, the growth of plants without soil, on the space shuttle. She has found that the plants “thrive in basic and acidic water but have been dying off in neutral water.”

Michelle Whitesides, a senior, is studying the proteins insects produce in response to changes in gravity, as well as the effects gravity has on their digestion rates. Through her research, she hopes to find what diet is most nutritional for humans in space.

Fred Thompson, a teacher at Hickman, is the CASA project manager. According to Thompson, CASA is the nation’s only aerospace simulation program developed and run by students for students. Currently, about 100 fifth- through 12th-graders are involved with CASA.

Interested students fill out a mission application and then attend about two hours of training a week for six weeks, said Polly Hendren, parent volunteer. Training includes learning about the systems used and decoding three different satellite languages.

After the space mission, there are several other activities CASA participants can take part in, Hendren said, but this is one of the more “unique experiences.”

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