André Kuipers goes back to school for educational DVD production
"Forty-one centimetres" calls out Saloua Assegaf. Her classmate, Yassine Bensrhir, carefully records the neck circumference measurement in a logbook. Standing between them in the biology classroom is the subject for their experiment, Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers.
Along with four other pupils from the Amstellyceum, a secondary school in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and some help from André Kuipers, Saloua and Yassine took part in filming for an educational DVD about some of the effects of gravity on the human body.
In addition to clips filmed on Earth showing pupils from three other European schools in Denmark, France and Belgium, as well as the Amstellyceum, the DVD, entitled 'Body Space', will include recordings made in space by André Kuipers and his Russian crewmate Gennadi Padalka during the DELTA Mission to the International Space Station in April 2004.
Earlier in the day the group was filmed doing various activities in the school's sports hall. Each of the activities was carefully selected to confuse the sensors in the muscles, tendons and inner ear or to disrupt normal blood flow through the body - hanging upside-down from the rings, rollerblading, spinning around on the spot - anything to help understand how our vestibular and cardiovascular systems use gravity here on Earth.
Shots were also recorded in the local park, where, in true Dutch tradition, two of the group took to their bikes - an activity that is wholly dependent on our ability to use gravity to find the fine line between grace and disaster.
Back at the school ESA astronaut André Kuipers joined the students for scenes filmed in the biology classroom. Surrounded by models of the human anatomy and against the backdrop of a glass fronted cabinet filled with specimen jars, Kuipers recollected how it was in this very room that his dreams for the future were fuelled - he was himself a pupil at the school nearly 30 years ago.
Kuipers, who is also a medical doctor, recalled, "Here in this classroom our biology teacher told us about DNA, biochemistry and those kinds of things. There was also a teacher who taught us about astronomy, about the stars. It really fascinated me."
SUIT, one of the fifteen experiments performed during the DELTA Mission, may also be featured on the DVD. Disorientation is a work hazard for those living on the Space Station; without the helping hand of gravity astronauts have no natural sense of up and down as we have here on Earth. The SUIT waistcoat, designed by the TNO Human Factors institute together with Dutch Space, contains vibrating elements that, in the absence of gravity, provide an extra orientation aid to the astronaut.
Ron Huijser and Angelique van Beuzekom from Dutch Space brought the vibrating waistcoat along to the Amstellyceum for the film shoot. "It is important to encourage our children to take an interest in science through this kind of innovative product," commented Huijser.
Dutch Space is also a major contributor to the International Space Station Education Fund (ISSEF), which is funding the production of the DVD.
Although visibly tired by the end of the days filming, the pupils from the Amstellyceum clearly enjoyed the experience, as did André Kuipers, who hopes that the DVD will inspire schoolchildren around Europe to pursue their own dream, "It is highly possible that someone who watches this DVD will one day be walking around on the surface of Mars. That will happen one day, it's just a matter of time."
'Body Space' is the second in a series of educational DVDs ESA is releasing to demonstrate basic scientific principles in ways children can relate to. The DVDs are being produced in cooperation with Irish multimedia production company Agtel. The first DVD, 'Newton in Space', released last month, explains Newton's Laws of Motion and includes images recorded during the Cervantes Mission of Spanish ESA astronaut Pedro Duque.
'Body Space' will be distributed free of charge to secondary schools throughout ESA's Member States early next year. If you are a teacher of pupils aged 12-18, and you would like to order a copy of the ISS DVD Lessons for use in your school, please submit the request form.