An Essay on the Website of
NASA Education on the Road
by Gordon Eskridge (Apr 2009)
On January 15, 1985, Charles
Anderson and I started our careers as Aerospace Education Specialists by
traveling to Kansas from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. We
were going to observe how the NASA school program was to be presented. We were
traveling in a United States Government van, with “NASA” (National
Aeronautics and Space) in bold lettering on all sides of the van. The interior
of the van had been modified to carry a variety of educational equipment
essential for school programs and personal equipment necessary to stay on the
road for three to five weeks at a time.
It was six a.m., and we were to be
at the school before eight A.M. Charles and I were driving the NASA van behind
a car which was driven by Dr. Nelson Earlick, the assistant director of our
group of aerospace specialists. We were headed toward our first elementary
school program in southeast Kansas to learn how the school program was to be
presented. The school was located in the center of a small town and was built
by the WPA (Works Progress Association). The school was made of stone and
built to last.
The NASA van was equipped for
living and working on the road. It
was one of the few Government vans that had a tape player built into the
radio. Often where we traveled there was little choice as to what could be
received on the radio in either the F.M. or A.M. radio bands. So, taped
stories or music were often kept in the van. There was a hanging clothes
closet, two large cabinets, and storage bins built into the wall that divides
the front of the van from the main storage area in the back of the van. A
center console was built between the seats with storage for the four-page
Government reports, school, travel, mileage and expense reports as well as
extra black ink pens, pictures of astronauts, paper punch, stapler, blank
paper, and other traveling office needs.
There was a Civil Broadcast Radio,
remote mike, and speaker. There were two cup holders built into the center
console also. Right behind the driver’s seat, there was a small wooden
cabinet with a door. Behind the door was a safe bolted to the van floor and in
this safe was a Lucite disk imbedded with chips of lunar rocks.
The backend of the van was
modified with shelves and storage bins to hold the model spacesuit and a
mixture of models including the space station, space transportation system,
satellites, airplanes, and the NASA family of rockets.
The collection also included a satellite information collector
demonstrator, space food, and flight food tray and other space artifacts. The
audio-visual equipment included a sound system, 16-mm projector, 35-mm slide
projector and projection screen. Other visual aids included 30 by 40-inch
photos of the sun, planets, moons and other space objects.
This was only one of thirty vans
modified at Stillwater by the Asphalt Astronauts (nickname of the Aerospace
Education Specialists) and the Assistant Director of the Aerospace Education
Services Program headquartered at Oklahoma State University. When newly
purchased, these vans held the $150,000 NASA presentation inventory and were
customized for security and convenience in the brown building on the west edge
Charles and I were there to help
unload the van and setup the auditorium program. We placed the three
eight-foot long folding tables end-to-end on the stage and covered them with
long, blue tablecloths. Next to be set up was the portable sound system and
remote FM mike that Dr. Nelson would wear during the program. Next we placed
the models on a table, with some raised up on differing heights by the use of
empty model boxes place under the tablecloth to keep the visual line
interesting. We placed the tallest ones on each end of the tables so the eyes
of the students would be drawn back to the speaker at the center of the
display. Leaning against the front of the tables were the 30 by 40-inch
pictures of the solar system in order with the sun on the left and the planet
Pluto on the right. The full size model space suit was displayed to the right
of the tables by hanging it on the two-wheel dolly we used to move the boxes
from the van.
The morning programs would be
divided into two different age groups and the length of time the program and
the technical level of language used would differ with the age and attention
span of the student.
All of the members of AESP were
former teachers with at least five years in the classroom and a Bachelors
Degree or three years experience in the classroom and a Masters degree. At 9
a.m. a bell rung and the first students started to arrive in the auditorium.
They sat on the floor with the younger and shorter children sitting down
front. The teachers were sitting at the end of each row and at the back of the
room. Charles and I sat at one side and took notes of everything Dr. Nelson
said or did during that first half-hour program.
Nelson brought students up from
the audience to help with the demonstration parts of the program. The students
built paper airplanes to show how well they could follow instructions and make
airplanes that would fly. They inflated balloons and launched them complete
with countdown from the audience to demonstrate how rockets worked. Nelson
continued by stacking two balloons with a paper cup in between each balloon to
demonstrate a two-stage rocket. Nelson demonstrated how satellites were kept
in space and steered by the use of gyroscopes, using a twist board and a
bicycle wheel with extension handles attached to the axel. With the student
standing on the twist board and holding the bicycle wheel by the two handles
Dr. Earlic started the wheel spinning and had the student tilt the wheel
making the student move in opposite direction.
Using the ten “30 x
40”pictures held up for the students to see, Nelson told the students how to
name the planets in order out from the sun. To the students he said “My Very
Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”, and had them repeat it back to
him. Then Nelson created the most enviable task for one student. This student
was brought up on stage and dressed in the mock-up space suit while the
presenter told about the composition of the many layers that made up the space
suit and how each part of the space suit was used. He explained to the
students that the outer layer was for durability and reflection of light and
heat rays and was made of a Teflon-coated, woven fiberglass.
The next several layers were made
of a Mylar-coated aluminum foil for more strength and ray reflection. The next
layer was a rubberized plastic layer to keep the air in. Another layer was
like Long John underwear made of Dacron and cotton to prevent abrasion to the
astronauts skin. Next to this layer were miles of flexible tubing used to pass
water through to keep the astronaut cool. A knob was located on the work belt
to adjust the temperature of the astronaut’s underwear.
Then a diaper was worn to help
with emergencies. Dr. Earlic then explained to the students how the many
components of the space suit worked together.
Often we got reporters that would
stay through the first session in the morning, take a picture of the kid in
the spacesuit and leave. Sometimes they stayed all day.
The second program followed much
the same routine except for more details about the objects displayed and the
technical language used. Each presentation lasted approximately fifty minutes.
We then helped Dr. Earlic load the van, and the principal of the school took
us all out to eat at the best restaurant in town, the “Hook and Ladder Café,”
which is attached to the fire station. The chef cooks for both places.
After lunch we went back to the
school and set up a room for the question and answer portion of the school
visit. This part of the visit was titled a classroom visit and in fifteen
years of doing this job there was never less than three classrooms in the room
and more often several more. We spent this time explaining about living and
working in space. Eating space food is the third most asked question from the
“tube food” for the Mercury astronauts to the “freeze dried foods” of
space stations today. We carried samples of each stage of space food
evaluation. Sleeping in space is the number two most asked question from
sleeping in a chair to the ability to sleep in a sleeping bag up side down. We
had a mock-up sleeping bag from the Space Shuttle. The number one asked
question is how do you go to the bathroom in space?
The explanation included
information from Mercury flights to today on the Space Transportation System.
NASA has a slide-show presentation on the bathroom for outer space. We
concluded the classroom visit with a short film of the last flight in space.
We normally had two classroom
visits and sometimes three. Today, there would be only two because there was a
bad snowstorm coming and officials were closing schools early. We also
discovered that the next two schools on our schedule were closed for the next
two days. So we went home.
At home we had some snow that was
gone by Sunday, and we returned to Kansas with a grad student working on his
masters at Oklahoma State University as part of the AESP contract.
With NASA you could complete your final year on campus to meet
residency requirements and be paid by AESP to complete your Masters or
Charles and I studied all
weekend about the things we had learned on our first school visit. We made
notes on three-by-five cards and placed them near the models and attached them
to the back of the planet pictures so we could refer to them while we
practiced our presentation or if we should be called on to give part of a
presentation for real.
Charles and I met with
Phil the grad student from the Kennedy Space Center. We left our cars at the
university, one more time, traveling in the blue NASA van again. We were going
to a middle school in Wichita, Kansas. We drove to the school following Phil
in his car. The program had a few new jokes and some different information,
and we jotted them down for later use. We
drove to the motel and spent a quiet night studying and planning for tomorrow.
The next day’s high school presentation would give us a sample of the
approach given to the high schools.
After the day was over Phil asked
us how we felt about doing the school presentations, and I told him I thought
we were ready to do it on our own. Charles hit me on the shoulder and said,
“No way.” The next school was another elementary presentation and if he
made a mistake no one would know. We would still do the classroom visits
together and between us should be able to answer the questions. He thought
about it and then said, “Okay.” Phil said he would critique the programs,
and we could go from there. We said, “Okay.”
After the school program the next day, Phil said that we had done as good a program as he had ever seen. He packed his car and left us the schedule of school presentations.
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