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Donations spark interest in space
Discovery Canyon students admire a one-sixth scale model of the Mercury capsule donated by the Air Force Academy's Astronautics Department Aug. 30, 2012. The model is a replica of the capsule that astronaut John Glenn flew when he became the first American to orbit Earth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)
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Donations spark interest in space

Posted 9/10/2012   Updated 9/10/2012 Email story   Print story


9/10/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Academy's Astronautics Department donated four surplus spacecraft models to the Discovery Canyon Campus Aug. 30 to continue generating enthusiasm for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

The department was cleaning up its laboratory and, rather than putting the unused items back into storage or disposing of them, they decided to donate them to a local school, according to Col. Marty France, the Astronautics Department head.

"With our department being almost 55 years old, we've accumulated a lot of great models and donations from Air Force organizations and industry -- many that are historically significant," France said. "But we just don't have room for all of them anymore. One of our lab technicians, Tech. Sgt. Chris Smith, suggested that we donate them to Discovery Canyon to help motivate the kids there. We thought it was a great idea but waited until the school year started so that we could make sure it was done right and kids could participate."

The department routinely hosts student groups to tour their satellite facilities in Fairchild Hall and learn about the cadet-built FalconSAT program and other aspects of space, but this was the first time the Academy donated actual space hardware to a local school.

The department donated quarter-scale models of a Defense Support Program satellite, a Defense Satellite Communications System satellite and a 1/6 scale model of the Mercury Capsule that John Glenn flew in to become the first American to orbit the Earth. They also donated an actual Explorer 20 satellite, that was the backup for the Explorer 20 satellite that was launched on August 25, 1964 and its mission was to measure the top side of the ionosphere.

"In the early days of the space era, it was common to build two models of spacecraft in case anything went wrong in final testing before launch, or if a launch failed," France said. "We were very fortunate to have Explorer 20 donated to us and now feel honored that it's found a home at Discovery Canyon."

The Academy's Research Office helped clear the donations through minor legal obstacles and arranged for local media and representatives from District 20 to attend, including District 20 Superintendent Dr. Mark Hatcell and Col. Neal Barlow, head of the Aeronautics Department and the Academy's liaison to the District 20 School Board. The Academy's long-time relationship with District 20 also made this a natural connection -- something both Hatchell and Barlow praised.

Discovery Canyon Principal Christina Serola said receiving the gift was an honor. She intends to place one model in each of the four campuses at Discovery Canyon so that all of the children at the K-12 school can see them on a daily basis.

"We want to do anything we can to motivate kids to study math and science, but there's more to space than just math and science," France said. "Space can motivate kids to be creative writers, to study history, and to better understand geography, too."

Barlow, France and Hatchell challenged the students to use the models as daily motivation to achieve their goals. They were tasked to challenge their teachers, too, by asking more questions about the spacecraft: how they get to space, how they stay in space once placed there, what missions they perform, and how those missions affect our daily lives.

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