NASA educator works with students in Houston County

awoolen@macon.comMarch 19, 2014 

KATHLEEN -- The future of space travel is in the hands of middle schoolers, according to Lester Morales.

Aspiring engineers and astronauts from Mossy Creek Middle School listened to Morales, education specialist from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Thursday afternoon as he spoke to them about careers in the space program.

The middle schoolers are part of the Starbase 2.0 STEM after school mentoring program. Morales visited seven schools in Houston and Peach counties during his two-week stay March 10-20 in Middle Georgia.

“This is where the next astronauts are going to be chosen from to go to Mars,” Morales said.

He explained NASA looks for people in the science, technology, engineering and math fields to work for the agency.

Currently, NASA is building a cargo rocket to make a trip to Mars. The rocket is scheduled to be tested in Florida in the fall, Morales said.

Armed with Popsicle sticks, toothpicks, cardboard and hot glue guns, the students broke off into groups to build a structure to hold rocket fuel.

In groups of three and four, students drew designs of the model they were making.

“Since paper was very lightweight, we were going to use that,” sixth-grader Raymond Dollar said.

Raymond was very enthusiastic about his project, especially when the small cardboard piece stayed together during the test phase.

“It’s intact,” Raymond said, holding his hands in the air. “Oh my God, it didn’t break.”

After high-fiving his two other teammates, Bryson Gutshall and Selah Williams, Raymond and his team went back to work to modify the piece to make it lighter.

During the first test, two teams had their structures break apart, and two teams with heavier pieces stayed together.

As the students worked, sponsors Angela Cuti, a special education teacher, and sixth-grade science teacher Jenny Gutshall were making the rounds to each team to offer advice and assistance with the hot glue gun.

“It introduces them to lots of concepts with science and engineering,” Gutshall said about the Starbase program.

The students are allowed creative reign with the designs, which helps to foster interest in engineering and science, she said.

For most, this was an opportunity to show what they could build.

The test, which put a 2-liter bottle of water on a lever that then had a weight dropped from the other end, was an exercise in weight and stability.

As another pretend rocket was launched, Raymond wanted to make sure he had everyone’s attention for his test.

“Hey guys, watch this,” he said.

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