Forty lucky Nexus students in year 7 and 8 experienced the trip of a lifetime when they recently went for a four-day visit to the Euro Space Center in Belgium. The center is a hub for space education and contains a host of equipment and resources used for astronaut and space exploration training.
Over the four days, the students were able to experience various aspects of astronaut training. Each of these activities alone would have been a highlight of the trip but the students were able to experience each one of them, making for a visit they will never forget.
Astronauts have to perform delicate operations whilst operating in microgravity in space. The microgravity wall gave students the chance to experience the feeling of microgravity by counterbalancing their weight on the climbing wall so that the smallest push or touch would send them shooting up or down. The students were then given a complex task to carry out while operating under simulated microgravity, such as replacing solar panels or electrical equipment on a satellite at the top of the wall. Many of the students took to the microgravity simulation like ducks to water, fixing the stricken satellite with ease and using their spare time on the microgravity wall to practice being Superman.
The moonwalk activity combined the technology of virtual reality with a ‘weightless chair’ which simulates walking on the Moon at 1/6 of the Earth’s gravity. Students wearing the virtual reality headset found themselves on the Moon and had to find the best way to get to a flag which was situated ahead of them. Many students found the best way to make progress towards the flag was some combination of swimming and bunnyhopping, much to amusement of those watching the activity from the sidelines!
The Euro Space Center has its own multi-axis gyroscopic chair and rotating chair, both of which are important for helping astronauts to adjust to the extreme g-forces and disorientation they experience when being launched into space and orbiting the Earth. Students learned about the workings of the inner ear in helping them to maintain balance as they experienced some of what an astronaut has to endure during training. The multi-axis gyroscopic chair was generally agreed to be not quite as bad as it looked, with all the students able to trace a simple shape onto paper despite being thrown in every direction as the chair rotated.
As part of the programme, the students built and launched their own rockets. These rockets were powered by solid rocket fuel and shot hundreds of feet into the air before descending on their own parachutes.
The absolute highlight of the trip for many of the students was being part of the team for a shuttle mission. Two students from each group were able to take on the roles of Pilot and mission commander, taking the driving seat in the full-sized shuttle within the training facility. The rest of the group were all given crucial roles within the mission control and had to carry out their activities during a two hour mission to launch, put into orbit and then safely land the shuttle.
In addition to all these activities, the students also found time to take a torchlit tour of Bouillon Castle, visit the 4D cinema, take part in a snowman building competition and sample the delights of a Belgian chocolate shop. The Euro Space visit will become a regular part of the Nexus calendar, with the next trip scheduled for February 2020.