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Students Discuss John Glenn's Trip

by Barbara Ziemba
staff writer
News Herald Newspapers

GIBRALTAR -- A new generation of children watched around the country Thursday as John Glenn returned to space after 36 years.

But things have changed a bit since Glenn first skyrocketed into space in 1962.

Back then, people gathered around predominately black-and-white television sets to watch the astronaut become the first American to orbit the Earth. Or they walked around with transistor radios glued to their ears.

Maybe they called in sick, or had to content themselves with a tape replay on the evening news.

But television isn't the only way to watch a space launch anymore.

With the growth of computers and the Internet in homes and schools, it's a safe bet that more children -- and more office workers -- were able to watch Thursday's launch in real time than when Glenn first lifted off into history.

That's how the kids in Laura Bashlor's sixth-grade class at Shumate Middle School in Gibraltar saw the launch -- via television and computer.

They also had access to special chat rooms staffed with space experts prepared to handle questions from the pupils.

"Unfortunately, the sites were so busy we could only get a couple of questions in," Bashlor said.

Students, Kelly Hagaman, Brittany Belinc, and Megan Keene, all 11, were unanimous in their feelings about space.

"It's awesome!" they said in chorus. Kelly wants a chance to see in person what space is like, while Megan, who is considering a career as an architect, was curious how she could apply that skill to a career in space.

Brittany couldn't decide if she wants to be a singer or an astronaut, then giggled when someone suggested she might be the world's first singing astronaut.

Aubry Grohowski, who's mapped out a career in space, was appropriately decked out in a red, white, and blue T-shirt. Tiny, ghostly aliens with huge eyes dangled from her ears.

In Mike Jones' seventh grade science class, kids got a chance to handle actual tiles from one of the shuttles.

The tiles protect the shuttle from extreme heat when the shuttle returns to Earth.

They're surprisingly lightweight, not at all like ceramic tiles. The underside is white, very similar to Styrofoam and is made from Silicone. The outer, heat resistant part is black, although Jones wasn't sure what it was made of.

Whatever it was, it worked. The teacher held a blowtorch to the center of the tile, which immediately glowed red-hot.

After he withdrew the torch, the tile's center radiated heat, but the sides were cool to the touch, as was the white underside.

Thanks to programs sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administation, more teachers than ever before are better prepared to educate even their youngest pupils to the wonders of space.

Bashlor and Jones have both been through such programs: NEWSMATT -- NASA Educational Workshop for Science, Mathematics and Technology Teachers as well as Passport To Knowledge.

Bashlor has seen an actual launch, viewing it from a NASA VIP area not far from the launch pad.

"It's unlike anything you've ever seen," she said. "The most amazing thing is the sound. They muffle it for television, but it just crackles around you, pressing down on your chest ... It is awesome."


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