Idaho students shoot for the stars after watching Atlantis
NAMPA, Idaho- As he watched footage of space shuttle Atlantis touching down at Kennedy Space Center Thursday, Oscar Hernandez-Lopez felt sad.
Two weeks earlier, Hernandez-Lopez, a student at West Middle School, and seven other Nampa middle school students traveled to Florida to watch Atlantis launch. The shuttle, he said, took off with the “sound of a lion” as it emerged from a large cloud of smoke and burst skyward.
As Atlantis rolled across the runway, the last of NASA’s shuttle program that began in 1981, Hernandez-Lopez realized that he had witnessed history.
“There’s not going to be another launch for a long, long time,” he said.
Lopez and his fellow students gathered in teacher Rebecca Franks’ classroom at Endeavor Elementary Thursday morning to watch the shuttle’s landing and share stories about their recent trip.
The students, participants in Nampa School District’s migrant summer school program, traveled to Florida in early July with Franks and another teacher, Courtney Davlin. During the trip – part of a three-year, $900,000 grant sponsored by the University of Idaho and NASA – the students watched the launch, rode in a shuttle simulator at Kennedy Space Center and visited Sea World.
Franks and Davlin hand-picked the students from the migrant summer school who had the best attendance record and work ethic.
“The statistics are showing that not nearly enough minority students are going into engineering, math and science. We want to spark their interest, to show them that they’re just the right age and have just the right background to become part of the next generation of NASA,” Franks said.
Last summer, the students participated in NASA-themed summer camp in Nampa. Among other projects, they built a robot arm and launched a rocket that they designed.
This summer’s trip to Florida held a potential learning experience at every turn, from riding an airplane across the country to hand-feeding shrimp to stingrays at Sea World.
“They got to see a world outside of what they’re used to. It was an opportunity to see that they can do more than what they think they can,” said Davlin.
For the students, the opportunity inspired them to see how science and math could play a role in their lives. In addition to Hernando-Lopez, Jonathan Rojas, a student at South Middle School, and Gustavo Ruiz, from East Valley, said that they would like to work for NASA some day, possibly even become astronauts.
“We’ll have to go to college, graduate and don’t have bad records,” Hernando-Lopez said.
Although NASA has ended the shuttle program, the boys found reason to remain hopeful: President Obama has called for a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030s. By that time, they figure they could be old enough, and educated enough, to make the flight and be the first men on Mars.
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