Swigert sixth-graders use new tools to map space station's path

By: SUE McMILLIN
May 25, 2010
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photo - Bryan DeBates, the senior aerospace education specialist for the Space Foundation, teaches Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy sixth graders how to track the International Space Station in the new computer lab Tuesday, May 25, 2010, at the Space Foundation Discovery Institute on Colorado Springs school campus. The lab computers and the AGI Space Missions Simulator software used to track the space station were donated to the space foundation from Analytical Graphics Inc. Photo by
Bryan DeBates, the senior aerospace education specialist for the Space Foundation, teaches Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy sixth graders how to track the International Space Station in the new computer lab Tuesday, May 25, 2010, at the Space Foundation Discovery Institute on Colorado Springs school campus. The lab computers and the AGI Space Missions Simulator software used to track the space station were donated to the space foundation from Analytical Graphics Inc. Photo by  

In two short class periods, sixth-graders at Swigert Aerospace Academy learned how to figure out when they might get a glimpse of the International Space Station when it passes overhead.

And Tequan Baker, 12, figured it just might be worth getting up at 4:30 a.m. on June 7 to see if he can spot the dot of light in the three minutes that it will be in view over in the southwestern sky.

“I didn’t know we could do stuff like this,” Tequan said Tuesday after his sixth-grade science class wrapped up the day in the new mission laboratory adjacent to the school. With data entered in a previous lesson and a few keystrokes on Tuesday, the students each created animated maps of space station orbits that showed it traversing the continents through daylight and darkness.

The mission capped the students’ study of the space station, as well as to the first year of the remade Colorado Springs School District 11 middle school.

The Analytical Graphics Space Mission Simulator was created this year after AGI donated more than $3 million in computer equipment, software and licensing. The 30-station computer lab offers the students a chance see real-world applications, said Bryan DeBates, senior aerospace education specialist with the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Space Foundation.

“This is the same scenario that AGI uses to teach aerospace engineers,” he said.

The lab is the first of several planned at the Space Foundation Discovery Institute, which was created through a partnership of the Space Foundation and District 11.

The institute is housed in a portion of the former Emerson Middle School, and the foundation is helping develop curriculum for the aerospace-themed academy for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. It also provides instructors for mission labs and teacher training.

DeBates said the lab can be used across the curriculum. Social studies teachers, for example, can use Global Positioning Satellite programs for mapping projects. Classes also can use a Hayman fire data base that shows how helicopters or planes can be programmed to dump water or fire retardant on a forest fire. The June 2002 Hayman fire in Teller, Park, Jefferson and Douglas counties burned about 138,000 acres and is the largest forest fire in the state’s recorded history.

DeBates was thrilled with the instant success of the mission lab with the students. Every sixth- and seventh-grader at Swigert will use the lab at least twice next year, and it eventually will be used at all grade levels and for other D-11 students.

“This is going to be a unique, fascinating tool we can use to engage the students,” he said. “This is awesome. I can’t wait for next fall.”  


Call the writer at 636-0251.

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