As any student or alumnus can easily say, Purdue University has a long and unique relationship with space. From its history of producing exceptional astronauts to its ongoing work in the aerospace industry, it is no surprise to see Purdue already working to teach the next generation of scientists and engineers about the wonders of space exploration. This last Saturday offered a perfect example of this in the form of Purdue Space Day.
Space Day is an event organized by the Purdue Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. From its first creation in 1996, Space Day has grown in scope, now hosting over 650 students from grades 3 through 8, as well as support from over 200 Purdue student volunteers. The day aims to teach young students about the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a fun and interactive way. Since its conception, the event has accommodated over 5,400 grade school students.
This year, Space Day drew its inspiration from potential missions to Mars. Thus, most of the activities that the students participate in introduced them to the many aspects of space missions. Participants in grades 3 through 4 were able to learn about propulsion through the construction and demonstration of balloon rocket cars and straw rockets. In order to show the effects of gravity on descending astronauts, an egg drop also challenged students to protect the passengers (or “eggstronauts” as they were called) landing on the surface of a new planet.
Older students got to experience more complex and advanced activities. These included a balloon “satellite” launch, the construction of solar cars, and lessons on the names and arrangements of stars. Much of the time during Space Day was devoted to programs teaching participants about the basics of propulsion. Students were able to design their own stomp-launched rocket, air/water rocket, and even a catapult. All of this presented valuable lessons in everything from physics, to electricity, to design, to mathematics.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the day came in the form of NASA astronaut Dr. Roy Bridges. Dr. Bridges received his Master of Science Degree in Astronautics from Purdue in 1966 before going on to become a pilot for NASA. In 1985, he piloted the Space Shuttle Challenger on mission STS-51-F, conducting a number of experiments in outer space. Since then, he has served as the director of Langley Research Center and the Kennedy Space Center. At Space Day, Dr. Bridges spoke about his experiences with NASA and outer space, also stressing the importance of young people getting interested in science and engineering.
Overall, Purdue Space Day proved once again to be a success. Both the student participants and volunteers appeared to make the most out of what the day had to offer. Christina Rash, a volunteer and freshman student at Purdue noted, “I think that all of the kids really enjoyed themselves. They really got into the tasks each activity offered and seemed to have fun while doing it. I worked at the egg drop, and I can definitely say that the designs I saw there were really impressive.” Many others seemed to agree that, for everyone involved, Purdue Space Day made for a great weekend.