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NASA Knights

Nine students from the Science Club, along with the sponsor Justin Hickey and Science Department Chair John Flanagan, experienced an up-close, VIP Level 9 tour of NASA on Easter Monday.

The 5-hour tour included the Saturn V Rocket, the giant Vacuum Space Environment Simulator, the Aquatic Neutral Buoyancy Training Facility, the International Space Station (ISS) Mission Control, and the Robotics Development building.

Part of the day included talks with several NASA officials, including Gordon Andrews, a Mission Control 1992 flight coordinator, who discussed the discovery of natural anti-matter Helium through the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and answered students' questions about black holes.

The visual highlights were many, but Flanagan says the Vacuum Space Environment Simulator was particularly memorable for its massiveness and its ability to replicate extremes of 302 degrees Fahrenheit, or 387 degrees below Fahrenheit. The simulator is currently being used to test the James Webb Telescope.

Students also enjoyed the Neutral Buoyancy center, where trainees don 300-pound spacesuits and practice aquatics moves in a pool that mimics the microgravity of spaceflight. "Students watched as two astronauts and four safety and operational divers were practicing an extravehicular activity that will be performed on the International Space Station," says Flanagan.

While visiting Mission Control for the space station, the students were welcomed by Deputy Chief of the Space Exploration Division Vuong Pham, Dean of Faculty Nguyet Pham's husband. They learned that EHS Class of 2009 Colin George works at NASA as an ISS flight controller, though he was not available to meet with the group. "But we did get to visit his section of Mission Control, called CRONUS," says Flanagan. CRONUS controls and monitors on-board data and command centers. Based on the enthusiasm and interest of the Science Club attendees, Flanagan expects more Knights to join the ranks at NASA in the coming decades.