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Space Exploration: Up Close

Dr. Roger Crouch visits with Washington Mill students.

Students at Washington Mill Elementary School are taking off into space. Not literally, but after a visit by NASA astronaut Dr. Roger Crouch, some of them may be part of the crew taking off for space travel in the future.

Crouch figures that NASA will be sending people back to the moon in 10 years, and then to Mars in 30 years. Considering that the average age of an astronaut is 35, he figures the third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders that comprise the local space group at Washington Mill are perfectly situated.

“Going to Mars is our next big step — and guess who’s going to get to go to Mars?” Crouch said.

Crouch spoke to the group of 30 or so students at Washington Mill at a breakfast that was hosted by the Federation of Galaxy Explorers. Founder and CEO Nicholas Eftimiades coordinated the program and introduced Crouch as an astronaut who has flown on two space shuttle missions.

Not only has Crouch logged over 471 hours in space; he has also served as program scientist on five different Spacelab flights. Crouch helped organize and served as co-chair for the Microgravity Science Working Groups between NASA and space agencies from the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Japan and Russia. He has received numerous awards and numerous certificates for patents, applications and innovative technologies. He is currently based at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

EFTIMIADES SAID that he started The Federation of Galaxy Explorers about three years ago as a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization. He currently has Galaxy Explorer groups in schools in Colorado, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia and is hoping to expand. A summer space camp is held in Virginia as well. The first year the camp had 150 children; now the Federation hosts over 2,500 children in 13 summer camps, after school and evening programs.

Galaxy Explorers are organized into local “Mission Teams” and meet on a monthly basis, 10 meetings per year. Parent volunteers organize various activities for the students; this meeting with Crouch as a presenter was a special treat for the students.

Adult volunteers teach Galaxy Explorers with educational material that provide a hands-on understanding of space science, Earth science, engineering, and rocketry. Mission Team members wear uniform shirts and are rewarded for participation and achievements with ribbons, patches, medals, and certificates.

“We train parents and provide materials,” Eftimiades said. “We also host special events like this. They have a blast with it — they get to learn hands-on science stuff that teachers don’t have time to teach.”

In addition to the monthly meetings, groups organize field trips; a couple of weeks ago, the students attended a rocket launch.

At the breakfast, Crouch spoke to the students his going up on the Space Shuttle. Using a model of the shuttle, he explained how they got into the shuttle; and what it felt like when they launched.

“When you try to breathe, it’s like blowing into a balloon with somebody standing on it,” Crouch said.

Then he spoke about his morning exercise, “I tried to go from the front of the shuttle to the back without touching a wall.”