Schoolchildren learned the astronaut way with an intensive three-day programme full of space activities. This was the second time Europe has hosted the Mission-X closing event, an international challenge that promotes fitness and healthy nutrition among youngsters.
Having designed spacesuits, fired rockets and jumped for the Moon in the classroom, more than 60 fit explorers gathered last week at ESA’s ESTEC space research and technology hub in the Netherlands to test their space skills.
Astronauts-to-be came from Portugal, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and even Japan. They were just a small sample of the 15 000 students joining the ‘Mission-X Train Like an Astronaut’ competition from all around the world.
These future space explorers faced a whole set of activities inspired by astronaut training. Different stations tested their communication skills, agility and audacity. As in space, teamwork proved to be the key to success for completing their missions.
Getting physically acquainted with space was part of the experience. After riding on a gyroscopic chair, they were immersed in weightless feelings underwater.
One of the ways to replicate weightlessness on Earth is to dive into water and take advantage of buoyancy. Mission-X participants had the chance to try it for the first time in their lives assisted by expert divers in a pool.
There was also room for creative minds. Finalists from the international Humans in Space Youth Art Competition shared their vision in a dedicated exhibit on the future of space exploration.
Talking to astronauts
European astronauts followed their progress to the finish line. While ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano gave them tips to stay fit at the beginning of the competition, André Kuipers took them on a 3D tour of the International Space Station without leaving planet Earth.
Thomas Pesquet and Andreas Mogensen talked to the youngsters via video link from Houston, where they are undergoing their final tests at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab. If they pass, they will be qualified to perform spacewalks like colleague Luca.
“We are being evaluated just like in school, and we are aiming for the highest scores,” said Andreas. “You have to invest in your future: work hard, gain knowledge and experience. That is what it takes to be an astronaut.”
Thomas explained that eating good food and having a balanced diet is the best way to stay in good shape. “Living and working in space is physically challenging for the human body, so we try to stay fit and train as much as we can,” he added.
Some schools are already thinking of including Mission-X tasks in the curriculum. “I just can’t wait to see what happens next year,” confessed young Lewis Wilkinson, from St Patrick’s school in Southfield, UK.