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An out of this world lesson

Students at South Callaway Middle School learned about science and physics in relation to space exploration Thursday.

Pat Daugherty, a NASA education specialist, gave a presentation to the students and teachers at South Callaway Middle School about all the different ways space exploration can affect life on Earth.

“Most people think NASA is all about spaceships going up in space,” Daugherty said. “But really, 50 percent of the time they study Earth. The other 50 percent of the time goes to looking at space.”

Daugherty encouraged the students to look at the Hubble telescope site on NASA’s website.

“Today, I want to talk about space with you,” he said. “I want to make sure you learn something, and it is fun because it is possible for something to be educational and fun at the same time.”

He taught the students about exotic cosmic phenomenon and its relation to life on Earth.

“Do you all know about the space station?” he asked the students. “There has been an astronaut on board since 2000. It’s mostly Russians and Americans, but they do things we all do down here. They eat, sleep, do their work, bath, exercise and read. They can do just about anything up there.”

Daugherty used Newton’s Laws of Motions to teach the students how important balance and gravity was to life on the space station.

“Do you all know about Mary Had a Little Lamb?” he asked to enthusiastic nods and raised hands. “Well I wrote a little something like it about matter and gravity. Matter had a little gravity, and everywhere that matter went, gravity was sure to go!”

He asked the students why gravity does not pull down the space station if it is in Earth’s orbital field. He then explained it was the speed at which the space station was traveling around Earth that allowed it to stay in space.

“So we’re going to do an experiment that deals with free-falling,” Daugherty said.

The experiment was a mechanism which simulated the gravitational effect during a free fall. Daugherty had a student blow up a balloon which he placed within the mechanism. Then he had a teacher drop the mechanism which simulated the free fall. The balloon touched the top of the mechanism immediately and popped, showing the students that going into a free fall would counteract the force exerted by gravity enough that there would be a weightless effect.

He then showed the students each part of the space station and told them what astronauts did in those parts.

Daugherty also showed the students the effect a black hole has on matter around it.

“It sucks everything in because the gravity is so powerful,” he said. “But it doesn’t just suck right in; it’s like when you have a sink full of water. Everything starts twisting and turning, and it slows down time.”

The last thing Daugherty told the students about was insulation and its importance on space travel. He showed them a piece of silica — the type of insulation used on the space shuttles.

He then showed them, with a blow torch, how important it is. He had a teacher heat the piece of insulation with a blow torch while he held it from the other side to show the students that the one piece of insulation protected his hands, like it protects the astronauts when they are coming through the atmosphere and back to Earth.

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