Kids take off at space camp

Campers at Milton Gottesman space camp build miniature planetariums. Photo by Samantha Cooper

It’s a hot day in Washington and stuffy inside the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, where are hard at work making miniature planetariums.

Carefully, they poke holes in maps of the constellations. The holes will let light through and project s map of the stars on the wall of the Milton Space Camp for elementary school-age kids.

Across the hall, other campers fiddle with microchips designed for use in weather satellites — tiny pieces of fragile equipment. The kids are careful as they place their thumbs on a sensor to test the change in temperature.

Melinda Viteri, a NASA-certified pilot and a second-grade teacher at the Milton school, created the weeklong camp after a parent’s made the suggestion during a school field trip to the Air and Space Museum.

“The parent said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do a space camp at Milton?’” Viteri said.

Activities at the camp, held last month, included visits to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the College Park Airport Museum, the Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center and the Potomac Airfield in Friendly, Md.

Campers tried out a space shuttle flight simulator, put on parts of a space suit and made drones. There were talks about space travel and the history of flight.

Camper Alex Nehrer is spending the morning working with the microchips and weather satellites.

“Building the mini satellites was my favorite part,” she says.

Harriet Laskey loves that she was able to spend more time with Viteri, who was her teacher last year. “I want to float around in space,” she says.

After the kids finish their projects, they’ll have the chance to play with water rockets and fly drones like that had earlier that morning.

It’s not quite school, and it’s not quite camp. At the beginning of the second session of her satellite-making class, instructor Melissa Pore, who leads the student program Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, shows a video from NASA about its plan to return people to the moon in 2024.  And then she asks why NASA decided to go to the moon as a stepping stone to going to Mars.

Nearly everyone raises their hands or shouts out answers.

“Because the moon is closer.”

“If you jump on the moon you won’t float away but you will on Mars.”

“Because we’ve been to the moon before.”

Pore praises the kids for their answers, even if they aren’t all correct.

Alexander Hake says camp was “great.” He particularly loved going to Goddard Space Flight Center. “We had lunch, and we looked at a movie and we got to try on a glove from a space suit, a real space suit.”

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