California Space Expedition 1

When presented with the opportunity to chaperone a 3 night/4 day high school field trip, I could have said “no”. I could have chosen to stay home, working and enjoying “me” time.  After all, I had chaperoned many field trips when my boys were in school.  Who knew that years after they both graduated and moved on in their lives, I would say “yes” to going on a high school field trip as the lone female chaperone so that female students could have the same experience as their male counterparts? 

This was a field trip like no other, for me, and for the students. But for me, the one who never excelled in science, this was my “Big Bang Theory” trip and I found myself absorbing all that the students were learning, discovering new worlds beyond our own and rediscovering my fascination with astronomy. 

As a teenager, I would have loved the opportunity to explore the world of science, engineering and space….all areas that were not considered a “girls” place. Had I had this kind of exposure to the world beyond us, I may have excelled at and followed a path into science, especially astronomy.  So I am very thankful, that now, in the world we live in, females have these opportunities, that nothing is out of their reach.

I enjoyed time spent with the students, seeing the many places we visited through their enthusiastic eyes. They were like sponges, absorbing all they were shown, all that is currently happening and all that is being dreamt about and planned for the future. These students are normal teenagers, with the normal thoughts and attention spans that come with those ages.  And after this time with them I am hopeful about the future of this generation and the generations to come.  The universe that is opening to them is unfathomable to my mind yet very reachable for them and those that will follow.

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We set out on Wednesday morning….three minivans, four adults and sixteen teenagers. Off on our adventure.  Yes, it was a long drive from Chandler, AZ to Pasadena, CA. 

 

We arrived mid-afternoon and after checking into the hotel, we headed to our first stop—Griffith Observatory. It was rainy and cold, a very much welcome site for Californians, and despite the rain and the misty views, we enjoyed our time. 

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002The excitement erupted as the students spotted the “Hollywood” sign on the hillside opposite where we stood at the observatory.  It was awesome to see the learning going on as the students wandered through the exhibits and enjoyed the planetarium show.  We eventually left to go back to the hotel, exhausted but full of excitement for what was to come next.

Our first full day in California was full of scheduled tours.  The first–the Caltech Campus.  We did a walking tour of the campus and while the students were entertained by the turtles they found in a pond, the adults were discovering inside info from a friendly Caltech student.  One unexpected opportunity was the exhibit of Albert Einstein’s manuscripts and writings…Score! 

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Next was lunch at the student cafeteria and then after a pit stop at the Pasadena City Hall to see the historic building and admire the architecture, we were off to northern Pasadena and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

 

The tour of JPL had been scheduled since last September. Tours are limited and my husband was lucky enough to schedule a tour for the cadets.  The tour guide showed us how JPL is exploring our solar system. 

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We saw the massive clean room where they build the rovers, satellites and other space vehicles NASA launches to explore the planets of our solar system.  We learned that it can take a long time to communicate with those far away vehicles, and the farther away the longer it takes.  Voyager, which is now outside our solar system, takes the longest to communicate with–18 hours traveling at the speed of light for a message to reach Voyager and another 18 hours to receive a message back.  Wow!  Makes me really appreciate how quickly we can communicate with each other. 

The students were all happy to see a full-size replica of Curiosity, the newest rover on Mars.  Curiosity is the size of a small car—quite a bit bigger than Spirit and Opportunity (each about the size of a golf cart) and bigger than Sojourner and Pathfinder, the first Mars rovers.  We also visited the control room where all communications are sent and received.  JPL was fascinating, even for this girl.  Watching the students and hearing their questions proved that this tour was well worth traveling for.

Then it was time for dinner and the last tour of the day–a late evening tour of SpaceX, where tours are difficult to get unless you know an employee. This was an exciting opportunity and what we found there was quite unexpected for many of us, adults and students alike.  My husband has an old friend from his Air Force days who works for SpaceX and that is how we were able to tour this facility–a private business building rockets and space vehicles for humans to travel into space.  Their vision for the future and for exploring the vast solar system and even beyond inspired many of the students on this trip.  We were all delighted to find that not only was this the place where the visions were designed in cubicles, but this was also where those visions became reality in the factory right there in the building.  We saw rocket engines being built as we toured the factory floor and we watched as the Dragon was being assembled.  We were also surprised by the relaxed work environment.  Most of the students left the SpaceX tour wanting to go to work for them. 

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Our last day in California was full, but not quite as full as the first.  We started at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  Each individual had something different that intrigued them at this Library—from the Air Force One and Marine One exhibits, to the Oval Office, to the Berlin Wall, to the beam from the North Tower on display from 9/11, and to the death of President Reagan.  There was much to absorb here. 

Then it was off to the California Science Center and the shuttle Endeavour.  We spent some time in the Endeavour Exhibit, visited the SR-71 static display and stood outside the LA Coliseum, site of 2 Olympics and now home to the LA Rams while their stadium is being built.  And then watched we the IMAX 3D movie Journey to Space. 

A long day and a long trip filled with many exiting experiences. We returned to the school on day four, full of stories and questions and dreams for the future.

I am so glad I said “yes”. This was an amazing opportunity for all of us, but especially for the male and female cadets that my husband teaches in the AFJROTC classes at the high school.  These students are our futures and the future of our country is in great hands.

I am already looking forward to next year’s field trip: California Space Expedition 2!

 

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