By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
August 13, 2016
LEOMINSTER — Next week, local middle- and high-school students will have a chance to explore the final frontier from their own community.
Go For Launch, an educational and experimental space camp run by nonprofit Higher Orbits, is coming to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster from Monday through Wednesday.
The Go For Launch program will give students a chance to hear space-shuttle experiences from retired astronaut Dr. Don Thomas, and to design their own space experiments — one of which might go into orbit.
The camp’s purpose, in part, is to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, said program director Michelle Lucas.
“I’ve had comments from students that we’ve shown them there’s a lot more options with science than they ever considered,” Lucas said. “We’re not trying to turn them all into rocket scientists, but what we do love is that space is a great way to get students excited about STEM, irrespective of what they want to do when they grow up.”
Lucas spent more than a decade working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as an International Space Station flight controller and astronaut instructor. She founded Higher Orbits in 2014, after realizing her passion for inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
“I’ve been in love with space since I was a very little girl, and I was very fortunate to be able to attend Space Camp on a scholarship,” Lucas said. “When I was at the Johnson Space Center, somewhere along the way, I realized I had a love for educational outreach. I always felt fortunate having people to help me, and I wanted to be able to help students. My goal is to be able to bring these programs to the backyard of students, because not all students can afford to go to a program far from home.”
The three-day program will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, at the Boys & Girls Club, 365 Lindell Ave., Leominster. Students will be put on teams and will work on creativity and team-building STEM tasks each day. They’ll also get a chance to get to know Thomas, who has logged more than 1,040 hours in space.
Seamus Leger, who is entering seventh grade in Fitchburg next month and signed up for the camp, said he’s “most excited about the learning experience.”
“He’s always kind of been interested in the stars,” said his mother, Kelly Johnson, “and science is a huge thing for all our kids. The exposure to this program allows kids to say, is this something I’m interested in?”
Lucas said students who are passionate about the program, but may not be able to afford the $250 fee, are eligible for scholarships.
Their sponsors, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Whole Foods Market, the DoubleTree Hotel, Polar Beverages, Daily Bagel and Minuteman Press, make the scholarships possible.
“The scholarship was a huge deal,” said Johnson. “It was very easy to get, and (Michelle) is just looking to get as many kids involved as possible.”
Lucas said she wants “every student to have access to this program.”
Registration is open until Sunday night.