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Valley Center students hope to raise enough money to compete in space education program

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012, at 10:17 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at 10:42 p.m.

How to help

Valley Center High School needs to secure $20,000 in donations or pledges by Wednesday so its students can participate in the next mission of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. Officials also are seeking local experts in experimental design who could mentor students as they develop their projects.

As part of the fundraising effort, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center has donated a photograph signed by astronauts Joe Engle and Steve Hawley, which the school plans to give to the highest bidder.

For more information or to make a donation, call the school at 316-755-7070, e-mail principal Jamie Lewis at jamie.lewis@usd262.net, or visit the school’s Facebook page.

The students in Jeff Tracy’s biology class last week were making paper helicopters and adjusting them to see how far and accurately they could fly.

In coming months, they could be developing experiments that could travel through space to the International Space Station.

“This is just an amazing opportunity for our school and our students,” said Tracy, a science teacher at Valley Center High School. “This is real science, not just content in the classroom.”

Valley Center is one of 24 communities to be accepted as a candidate for Mission 3 of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. The program, part of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, is designed to give students hands-on experience designing, building, testing and conducting experiments for space flight.

The school’s first hurdle is financial: It needs to secure $20,000 in donations or pledges by Wednesday to participate.

“It’s a lot of money, but we are optimistic,” said Jamie Lewis, principal at Valley Center High School.

“We’ve had a good response so far. … With all the aerospace companies and other businesses here locally, we’re hoping the community really embraces this opportunity for our students.”

If the school meets the Wednesday deadline and is approved to participate, students enrolled in mid- to upper-level science classes — including biology, chemistry, physics and statistics — would work in teams to brainstorm experiments that could be tested in low gravity.

A review board would narrow the experiments to three finalists, and those would advance to the next round of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. The program then would select one Valley Center project to fly in low Earth orbit and then on to the International Space Station.

The program provides each participating community a research mini-laboratory capable of supporting one microgravity experiment and launch services to fly the mini-lab to the space station in early April 2013.

“It’s a pretty cool opportunity,” said Annabelle Brillhart, a junior in Tracy’s biology class. “Not many schools get to do it, so it would be amazing.”

Mikaila Woods, Annabelle’s classmate, said she has “no idea” what experiment she or her lab partners might suggest for a trip into space. But that’s part of the learning process so integral to the program.

“Once we get the go-ahead, there will be a huge brainstorming exercise involving all these teams of students,” Tracy said.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said science teacher Kristen Joyal, who happened across the spaceflight program while researching project possibilities over the summer.

She and her colleagues in the math and science departments at Valley Center crafted a proposal just in time for the program’s application deadline in July.

“They told us we were almost too late, but we managed to get it together and our plan was selected,” Joyal said.

“Our students have never had the opportunity for a project like this, where the end result is so remarkable: Someone from this high school is going to send an experiment to the International Space Station,” she said.

As part of the project, all students in the Valley Center district would be invited to design a “mission patch” for the winning experiment. The patch would travel to the space station alongside the experiment.

“I’m tremendously proud of the staff for getting to this point, being one of only 24 (communities) approved and selected,” Joyal said. “Now everyone is hoping we can get to that next step.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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