By Eric Stanway
The Worcester Telegram
July 22, 2016
WORCESTER – Those of us old enough to remember the first moon landings and initial exploration of Mars will recall the heady exhilaration of those times. For a while there, it seemed like every kid on the block wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.
The Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster is looking to ignite that spark again in a younger generation, as they initiate their first Massachusetts Go For Launch! program on August 15-17.
“We’re really excited to bring Go For Launch! to the area for the first time,” Katie Hammes of the Boys and Girls Club said. “This is a great way for kids to learn about space, and figure out ways to address the challenges that astronauts face all the time.”
The program is held in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Higher Orbits, which endeavors to make science more accessible to students.
“The focus of the program is that every team must design an idea for an experiment that they would like to see performed in space,” Michelle Lucas of Higher Orbits said.
“On the final day of the program, they will compete with each other, with the middle schoolers and high school students being judged in different categories. The winners in those categories will then compete in for the divisional title, and the winners in that division will get to see their experiment performed on the International Space Station, yielding 30 days’ worth of data.”
One of the principal instructors in the program will be retired astronaut Don Thomas, who became an astronaut in July of 1991. He has logged over 1,040 hours in space as a mission specialist.
“I look forward to sharing with my students my experiences from my four missions on the space shuttle,” Dr. Thomas said. “I love the idea of exciting and inspiring our next generation of scientists, engineers, astronauts and explorers through these programs. You never know – one of these students could end up going to Mars one day.”
Ms. Lucas’ passion for space travel is something she hopes she can share with the students.
“As someone who grew up in love with space travel but without many options to learn more, I’m excited to be able to bring the Go For Launch! program right to students in their hometown,” she said. “What this is all about is getting kids to dream big and realize the enormous opportunities that are out there.”
“This is an exciting opportunity for our club to offer central Massachusetts youth a program of this significance,” said Donata Martin, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. “It really complements our STEM and STEAM programming. The three days of NASA activities, along with being able to actually meet and work with NASA personnel will spark interest in many fields of study and careers.”
Dr. Thomas has served in the safety, operations, development and payload branches of the astronaut Office. He was CAPCOM (spacecraft communicator) for shuttle missions STS-47, STS-70, STS-83 and STS-94. From July of 1999 to June 2000, he was director of operations for NASA at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.
The program is open to all students of middle school or high school age, regardless of whether they are members of the Boys and Girls Club. Registration for program is $250 per student, and includes all supplies and meals. The program is being held in conjunction with Higher Orbits, which was founded a number of years ago by NASA operative Michelle Lucas.
Ms. Lucas spent ten years working at NASA, primarily in the International Space Station flight control operations and as an astronaut instructor. Her passion for inspiring students led to extensive work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach.
She decided to form Higher Orbits as a way to inspire students about the wonders of STEM through spaceflight.
To register for the program, or for more information, visit www.GoForLaunch.space or contact Ms. Lucas at (707) 893-STAR or email GoForLaunch@HigherOrbits.org.