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Colorado Springs students put on their astronaut hats for a day

February 28, 2018 Updated: February 28, 2018 at 3:39 pm
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photo - Former NASA  astronaut Lt. Col. Duane G. Carey teaches second-grader Chystal Schmitz how to command the Space Shuttle while visiting with students Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at McAuliffe Elementary School in Colorado Springs. Harris Corporation sponsored the presentation by the Carey as part of the Space Foundation's Space in Community program. Carey will be visiting other schools in the area through Friday.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Former NASA astronaut Lt. Col. Duane G. Carey teaches second-grader Chystal Schmitz how to command the Space Shuttle while visiting with students Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at McAuliffe Elementary School in Colorado Springs. Harris Corporation sponsored the presentation by the Carey as part of the Space Foundation's Space in Community program. Carey will be visiting other schools in the area through Friday. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Six-year-old Hannah Bilodeau will forever remember Wednesday as the day she got to "meet a real person who goes to space."

Now, the first-grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School wants to be an astronaut, just like Lt. Col. Duane "Digger" Carey.

The former Air Force pilot and retired NASA astronaut is speaking at six local schools through Friday, to excite and inspire kids about space-related careers.

"It was super fun that we got to learn about space," Hannah said. "The floating food looked delicious."

As part of the Colorado Springs-based Space Foundation's "Space in the Community" initiative, the program is being presented to students at McAuliffe Elementary and Coronado High School in Colorado Springs District 11; Academy Endeavor Elementary and Discovery Canyon Campus Elementary in D-20; Wildflower Elementary in Harrison District 2; and Evans International Elementary in Falcon District 49.

Harris Corp., a worldwide space technology company with an office in Colorado Springs, is sponsoring the events, in conjunction with the Space Foundation.

"There might be a future rocket scientist in this classroom," said Ellen Mitchell, Harris Corp. spokeswoman, gesturing to first-graders using bubbles to simulate gas planets before they met the guest astronaut.

"It's in all our best interest to introduce them to what could be very satisfying careers," Mitchell said.

First-grader Jayden Cockerham catches a soap bubble Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, while students at McAuliffe Elementary School learned about planets as part of the Space Foundation's Space in Community program. The program also featured former NASA astronaut Lt. Col. Duane G. Carey who gave a presentation about space. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

In addition to astronaut, space-related jobs include software engineer, scientist, cybersecurity specialist, electrical engineer, mathematician, mission controller and others.

"No student wants to be average, and this brings to life you can be whatever you want to be," said McAuliffe Principal Carla Auld. "This shows it's not just a dream - it's a reality."

Carey dubbed students "space kids" and had them buckle imaginary seat belts, pull on pretend helmets and imagine blasting off. But they quickly discovered that without gravity, they didn't know how to eat food or sleep or even (giggle, giggle) go to the bathroom.

A video helped students learn all that and more about taking a trip into outer space.

Carey told students the most important thing they can learn at school is "how to learn." And the best way to do that, Carey said, is to work double hard in math, because "it's the subject that teaches your brain how to learn new things quickly."

"Is the moon really made of cheese?" asked one student.

It was anybody's guess 100 years ago, Carey answered, but since astronauts have been to the moon, it's a fact that it's made of rocks.

How many rooms are in a space ship, another student wanted to know.

First graders hug former NASA astronaut Lt. Col. Duane G. Carey after he gave a presentation Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, at McAuliffe Elementary School in Colorado Springs. Harris Corporation sponsored the presentation by the Carey as part of the Space Foundation's Space in Community program. The retired Space Shuttle pilot Carey will be visiting other schools in the area through Friday. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Two, Carey said, a mid deck where the living quarters are and a flight deck, which contains the controls.

Has he ever been to Jupiter? No. Or Mars? No. No human has gone to those planets. But perhaps someone from their generation, maybe even one of the students at McAuliffe, might.

Seven-year-old Brianna Shadwike's favorite planet is Pluto. Scientists have recategorized it as a dwarf planet, which Brianna thinks is both funny and fascinating. During a classroom activity, Brianna and other first-grade students used dish soap, straw-like tools and special gloves that can hold delicate bubbles, to blow shapes to resemble planets. Brianna thought hers looked like Pluto.

"It's little," she yelled. "It's rainbow of a bubble!"

Students observed sparkles, patterns and colors reflected in their wiggly bubbles.

"You were scientists today," Elias Molen, manager of space education at the Space Foundation told the students. "You were exploring how a bubble can look like a gas planet in space."

"Wow," students murmured.

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