Learning about the ISS – a school visit to ESTEC
On Wednesday 22 May, a group of school children from the American School in The Hague visited the ISS User Information Centre at ESTEC, The Netherlands. The children learnt all about the International Space Station (ISS) and also talked to one of ESA’s astronauts.
Ninety children, age 11, followed a programme of lectures and demonstrations about the ISS, covering topics such as why we have a space station, how to get there and how space affects the human body.
The morning started with highlights from the recent Marco Polo ‘taxi’ flight which carried a crew of three, including ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, to the ISS. This gave the children an idea of what a launch is like, what the inside of the Space Station looks like, how objects float around in weightlessness and the experience of re-entry when the astronauts return to Earth.
Reaching the ISS
Using some simple demonstrations Rogier Schonenborg explained how propulsion is used to reach the ISS. The children had plenty of searching questions.
What happens to the human body in space?
Using a bottle half-filled with coloured water, physiologist Rebecca Forth demonstrated what happens to the fluids in the human body when astronauts go up to the ISS. Rebecca also explained why astronauts can get space sick, how your eyes can trick you in space, and how it feels to return back to Earth again.
Why do we do experiments on board ISS?
David Jarvis showed six different experiments that could be run on the Space Station. His demonstrations were particularly enthusiastically received. Every one of the children wanted to give David a hand when demonstrating the experiments and their answers to his questions showed that they clearly understood the importance of science on board ISS.
Life as an astronaut
Before sharing his experiences with the children, ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold, a veteran of three space flights, took the children on a Virtual Reality tour of the Space Station. Ulf went on to talk about the important role astronauts fulfil on behalf of the scientific community when they carry out experiments on board the Station. He also described life on board the Russian Mir space station, which he visited during the EUROMIR 94 mission in 1994.
The children jumped at the chance to talk to a real astronaut and many questions were fired at Ulf. Questions such as, “What was it like sitting in a Soyuz capsule?” and “What was his most exciting memory of flying up in space?”. The questions could probably have continued for much longer, but it was soon time to board the buses and return to school.
It was an altogether worthwhile and educating morning. Not only were they very enthusiastic about the visit to the ISS User Information Centre, the children also learnt a great deal about the International Space Station – most certainly ‘mission accomplished’.