TSM Launches New "Space Academy" and NASA Takes Notice!

Cadet Stephany rides TSM's new Hovercraft!

It's a warm Wednesday evening in the middle of March --almost 6 PM --and twenty-five students are still in classrooms at San Fernando High School taking part in a great experiment conducted by the Traveling Space Museum. These students elected to attend 18 three-hour sessions after school to see if they could learn science the same way America's astronauts learn science-with expert instructors and using sophisticated interactive simulators. By the time the TSM After School Space Academy program was over, some of the cadets were using everything they learned -- flying real airplanes over Los Angeles! Now, half of the cadets are desperately seeking careers in science. And while most cadets thought they would learn a lot from the program, none of them thought that they would be having this much fun!

The uniqueness of TSM's Space Academy program drew observors from all over California to the City of San Fernando including National University in San Deigo, LA Mission College in Sylmar CA., the Los Angeles Unified School District in LA and as far north as NASA Ames Research Center in the Bay Area city of Mountain View CA.

NASA's method for teaching astronauts using simulators was first perfected by the US Army during World War II as a way of quickly teaching raw recruits how to fly airplanes and drive tanks. Traveling Space Museum was the first education group to apply the method to an after school enrichment program when it premiered in three LA grade schools in 2003. We called the concept "Learning like an Astronaut." This high school Space Academy was sponsored by Los Angeles Mission College for the purpose of sparking an increase in the enrollment of students in the sciences. To that end, the TSM Space Academy focused on three subjects we thought would be fun for students. Those three subjects just happen to be most pertinent to human space flight: Aviation & Space, 'Space Biology' and Communications. (See After School in PROGRAMS)

Cadets line up for as ride in the Orion CRV Flight Simulator. (Photo by Del Mackey/National University)

Eighteen hours of instruction are devoted to each subject making for an accelerated and comprehensive course. "Learning like an Astronaut" is accomplished through a series inspiring lectures, related arts and crafts projects, guest experts and unique interactive simulations. TSM's interactive simulations are all full-scale like the 'Odyssey IV SpaceLab' --a 24-footlong space station mockup and a space toilet simulation, the only traveling exhibit of its kind. These and other exhibits are displayed as a way of immersing the cadets into the atmosphere of a 'space academy.' TSM also hired accomplished lead instructors and numerous guest expects. The caliber of the instructors, which included three PhDs, is rare in a formal high school setting much less in an informal after school program. The cadets would only encounter instructors of this caliber by attending America's top universities.

Lead instructors were: Dr. Maureen Clemmons, (Communications), a renown National Geographic Fellow and Egyptologist with a History Channel documentary in circulation called "Flying Pyramids-Soaring Stones." Dr. Richard Shope III, (Aviation & Space), is an Associate Professor at Loyola Marymount University and a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. TSM Protege, Ms. Heather Wichman ('Space Biology') is a college freshman who taught the physiology unit under the tutelage of her grandfather, Dr. Harvey Wichman, Professor Emeritus of Claremont-McKenna College and NASA consultant.

The TSM Space Academy's most prominent guest lecturer was famed actress and space activist, Ms. Nichelle Nichols who spoke on "The Science of Star Trek." (More on Nichelle Nichols as a TSM guest lecturer in a future article)."

Cadets dress as medical examiners who wear plastic face-shields during an autopsy. Autopsy assistant, Larry Villarin (right). (Photo by Jerry Cobb)

Other Academy highlights included

WASP, Jan Wood shows off the Congressional Gold Medal she received in Washington DC on March 10 2010

That's our idea of higher education! Few experiences are more "hands on" then banking an airplane over Magic Mountain Amusement Park. The word we heard most was "awesome!"

We know that this program meant a lot to the cadets. As the program reached its final days and hours, many students gave unsolicited testimony about how they loved the program and how much they will miss their instructors. TSM sought to inspire students, change a few lives and to add some fun to after school enrichment. It looks as if we succeeded on all fronts.

Former San Fernando High principal, Ed Moreno was a supply sergeant in Okinawa, Japan two years after WWII ended in 1947. (Photo courtesy of Ed Moreno)

Our guest speakers were: actress, Nichelle Nichols, Dr. Harvey Wichman, WASP, Jan Wood, Bob Alborzian & the Burbank Sidewalk Astronomers, air traffic controller, Mike Evangelista, computer programming specialist, Clark Snowdall, RN, Sharon Ulmer, mime artist, Dennis Schaller, Hula dance instructor, Elizabeth Clemmons, student pilot, Sean Clemmons, flight simulator instructor, Gary Velligan, pilots, John and Jay Eggert, San Fernando Valley 99's pilots: Ceci Stratford, Ruth Logan, Lilian Darling Holt & Kathryn Presson, World War II historian, Patrick Fahey, space historian, Dr. Jim Busby and World War II veterans, former SFHS Principal, Ed Moreno, Artie Sherman, Leo Keligian and Ed Figueroa.

(Photo by Lilian Darling Holt)

Ivor Dawson, Ingrid Desilvestre of NASA Ames, Nichelle Nichols & TSM Lead Instructor, Dr Maureen Clemmons. (Photo by Lilian Darling Holt)

Mime artist, Dr. Richard Shope takes flight as "Icarus".