By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Students from several area schools have been exploring space travel and the universe through the
Young Astronauts program. The program, developed by Guy Fenter Education Coop Science
Specialist’s Amber Cobb and Dr. Curtis Varnell, introduces k-2 students to the basic science
concepts involved in space travel. Students explore the forces of gravity and the requirements
for astronauts to enter space as they prepare to launch space rockets that they assist in designing.
Once in space, they learn that loss of gravity had dramatic effects as they learn how astronauts
sleep, eat, and adapt to a trying environment. Students try out space food in the form of space
ice cream and learn to drink tang from an enclose bag and through a straw in order to prevent it
from drifting about the space craft.
As part of the program, students study rocketry by launching several classroom rockets and
engineering the rockets so that they can fly longer distances and land on designated islands (hula
hoops). The culminating activity allows students to explore the space environment by donning
space suits complete with helmets and gloves and trying to perform work in a zero-gravity
simulated setting. An important portion of the program involves learning about the role(s)
women now play in space exploration- including the fact that many women serve as engineers as
well as astronauts. The program has also been adapted and used by older students who design
and launch two-liter water rockets.
The program, funded with a grant from AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics) and NASA, the program has impacted the study of aeronautics and astronomy
throughout the region. Area schools participating in the Young Astronauts program include Van
Buren, Clarksville, Waldron, Paris St. Josephs, Franklin County Montessori, Hackett
Elementary, County Line Elementary, and Magazine. Other schools are scheduled for the fall