Space Explorers

August 5, 2019

On Wednesday evening 24 July, I went with my brother, Jack, and my mum to the city to see a very interesting talk by women whose jobs involve working to find out more about space. The talk was run by an organisation called One Giant Leap Australia, which encourages young people to get involved in learning skills in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) so that there will be enough people with skills in these areas to fill jobs in the future.

Christine Fuller, a robotics design engineer, who until recently worked for NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and who visited Emanuel on Tuesday 23 July, gave a presentation about some of the projects she has worked on. One really interesting project she is working on is something called ‘Gecko Adhesive’, which mimics the special way that the tiny hairs on a gecko’s limbs (called setae) allows them to stick to things. This enables them to climb easily without falling, and NASA engineers want to use a similar technique to give robots the ability to climb up and down different surfaces.  Christine talked about many different robots she has worked on, including an experiment with a space junk ‘gripper’ robot that she tested on a real airplane flight in which the plane nose-dived for 20 seconds to give the effect of being in zero gravity.

There was also a panel of guest speakers who answered questions from Emily Rozane, 17-year old Student Ambassador for One Giant Leap, and the audience. Apart from Christine Fuller, other scientists and engineers from NASA JPL included Debra Brice, a marine science educator and high school science teacher, Shannon McConnell, Deep Space Network Public Engagement Manager and Rachel Zimmerman Brachman, Outreach Lead for Radioisotopic Power Systems. The Executive Director for the Australian Space Agency, Aude Vignelles, was also there. I was amazed to learn that the Australian Space Agency has only been in existence for one-year! If you are interested in space, you should reach for Mars and aim to try and maybe work there one day.

Some of the questions the panellists spoke about included how and why they chose to become involved in STEM professions. One theme that they all spoke about was being curious. All of them had been interested in finding out more about space, about the world around them, and about how machines worked from the time they were children. Some of them talked about wanting to be astronauts when they were children, but then realising when they grew up that going into space would involve being away from their families for long periods of time, and that they wouldn’t really like to be in an environment where everything was floating around them 24/7, and where the food was nothing like it is on Earth. They said that they realised that you don’t need to actually go into space to be part of and explore space, and that you can still be involved in the space industry where there are many different kinds of jobs, for example, engineers design all the machines and robots that make space travel and exploration possible. Mathematicians solve complicated algorithms involved in working out all sorts of problems that need to be overcome to make the journey possible. Tech people code all different kinds of software and robots to help in space. All kinds of scientists conduct experiments both on earth and in space. Artists make graphics to show what spaceships or rovers will look like and what planets and stars that have been discovered look like. This is why the talk was about STEAM – which spells Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.

The audience was encouraged to watch a YouTube video called “7 Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars”. I watched this video with my mum, and it was really interesting because it explains all the problems that the Rover could possibly face when landing on Mars unassisted by humans because no signal can be heard from Mars back to Earth for seven minutes after the Rover either landed safely or crashed. This video shows that many different people with different skills had to work on solving these problems together in order to make the mission successful.

I was interested in going to this evening because our Innovation teacher, Ms Poisel, suggested it to me and also after meeting Christine Fuller at school, I was interested, and I wanted to know more about this topic.

I think it was a great opportunity to meet these amazing women who have done some extraordinary things. Learning about all the different jobs you can have that can make a real difference to the way people live in the future is exciting. It has made me really interested in the areas of design and space. I hope that one day I can create something new. That would be really cool.

By Elise, Year 4

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