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Mojave Desert 2007

Student Spaceward Bound

by Matt Allner
West Middle School

Daily Blog
Friday, June 1, 2007

            We started the expedition by having everyone meet about 0.9 miles Southeast of the entrance point to the area where we would set up camp.  The weather forecast was calling for light to moderate showers for the afternoon and temperatures around 70 degrees.  Upon arriving to the site I found myself excited, like a kid a Christmas time waiting for Santa Claus to arrive and deliver that special toy I had waited for all year.  For these students they had been training for this expedition every other Wednesday since February, so the anticipation and excitement surrounding the start was very high.

group shot
setting up tents


            Everyone convened at the meeting site around 1:45 pm, upon which time the rain decided to join us to test our motivation and moods.  Everyone was still excited and nobody complained about the conditions that we would have to deal with to set up our campsite.  Upon arriving at our campsite, we all worked together to get our tents set up and our rain canopies set-up to protect our science lab station and Mission Control.  It was a real team effort, which was encouraged greatly by the weather conditions and the willingness of many participants to make this 3-day experience a great one.


          We started by going over ground rules on the campsite, establishing bathroom protocols and use, discussing meals and duties for everyone to help attend to.  This was followed by an afternoon snack of fruit, a granola bar, and water.  Shortly after we all went out for a short hike around the property.  Glen and I (previously that morning) had come out to the site and pre-buried some slides, marked the site with a flag marker, and then inputted the location on GPS hand helds the students would be using all weekend.  The first goal was for the students to successfully navigate to the site and then use their training to successfully recover the slides while be careful not to contaminate the site (for future sampling purposes).  The students were very impressive at how well they worked to find the waypoint, and then how they discussed their entrance and approach to the slides before taking action to do so.  Scientists in the making. . .


student with GPSthermometers in ground

student comparing temperature in the sun and in the shade            Afterwards we continued on further down the trail system and found a great spot that was both open to the sunlight that had finally decided to join us, and the shade.  It was now later in the afternoon but the sun was still warm.  Students stopped to look at the many species of life all around them:  termites, butterflies, moths, poison ivy and poison oak, moss, and many other forms of life.  Our first science experiment was to take temperature readings of the air and soil in both the sun and the shade.  I split the students up into their EVA groups and had one group in the shade and one in the sun.  This was also done for the purpose of discussion that in space astronauts standing only 10 feet apart, where one is working in the shade and one in the direct sunlight, might experience temperature differentials of around 500 F.  Students were asked to record what they thought the temperatures would be and which areas would be highest and lowest.  Each group had two thermometers and they were standing just 10 feet apart (see photo on right above).  The group in the shade recorded the air temperature at 63.5 F, while the temp in the sun was at 66 F.  Soil temperatures in the shade were 64.8 F and in the sun were 66.2 F.  Students then had to discuss why the temperatures were different in these two extremes (sun vs. shade). 

Their conclusions were:  The air temperature reading was higher in the sunlight because the instrument was absorbing light from the sun.  However they felt the true air temperature was the same in both areas.  With the soil temperature analysis, they concluded that the soil in the shade was cooler because the ground was moist and therefore the water in the soil was cooler and had time to lose its heat, as opposed to the water in the soil that was exposed to the sun.  Before leaving the site we took a few quick group pictures and moved on to another site.
Elise with a water sample

           Our next stop took us to a small stream where Buddy and Elise headed down a small hillside to collect a water sample.  This sample would later be used as we would run tests on bacteria, nitrate and nitrite levels of the water.  We would also be comparing this to a sample taken in a few days from further down the stream. 

 group photo that includes family members near tree house







           Upon returning to camp we found my wife Jessica and our two special little ones (Isabelle and Nathan) enjoying the campsite.  Isabelle and Nathan had already found the awesome tree house that had been built by the property owner (a friend of mine) and Jessica was enjoying the fire we had left on for her. 

           The teachers and parents started preparing dinner while the students started preparing for the first EVA that would take place Saturday morning at 9 am.  Supplies were reviewed and then properly packed into backpacks before we ate dinner.  Students also got a chance to show their parents how to sterilize collection tools (spoons and shovels) in the field using isopropyl alcohol and a lighter.  Everyone loved this experiment.  We then wrapped the sterilized utensils in foil and packed them away until Saturday’s EVA.  Students also had to prepare slides to be buried and did so by taping bright yellow twine to the end of the slides and then wrapping them in foil.  Tomorrow they would have to unwrap the slides and successfully bury them, being carefully not to contaminate the slide while doing so. 

preparing dinner

            For dinner students had a choice of camping meals (just add hot water to the bag and let it cook!) such as Spaghetti, Beef Stroganoff, Beef Teriyaki, and Sweet and Sour Pork, along with either green beans or corn, and then applesauce.  Following dinner we read from the Lewis and Clark journals by the fire, recounting what our past explorers were doing and thinking at that same time back in the early 1800s.  It was amazing to think that these actual explorers had left the Missouri River and walked in the same woodlands that we were going to be living in the next three days.

student with lego creations





           We concluded the evening with a few science experiments and then a Lego challenge where EVA teams had to work together to simulate communication with Mission Control.  Each team was given a bag of Legos with each bag having the exact same parts.  One team (Mission Control) was instructed to build anything they wanted from all the parts in the bag.  Once they were finished they then had to communicate to the other team (the spaceflight team) via walkie-talkie how to put their pieces together the exact same way.  The end result was frustration, a little arguing, and then a Lego structure that was not completed.  Upon bringing the two groups together I reminded them of the importance of such a task, as the success of a similar endeavor occurred with Apollo 13 and it saved the live of three astronauts.  I also told them they would have a chance again Saturday to try this again.  They were determined to do much better next time!


            For an evening snack we had blueberry cheesecake and raspberry crumb cake (again, meal in a bag).  Everyone actually loved the meals, as they had truly felt they wouldn’t taste good and that they would be battling small episodes of starvation during our 3-day experience.  Blue Mountain got an A+ from all participants! 

           Following our evening snack we set up our 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope to view the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus.  The views were spectacular and the stars were beautiful.  Clouds eventually rolled in and ruined the event, but during the pleasant hour of clear skies we took many pictures and even got to see three satellites passing overhead.  We concluded the evening and everyone went to bed around midnight.


Continue to Day 2

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Last Updated:February 2006
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