From Mindanao to the Moon

SARANGANI, August 14, 2010 - How does your metabolism change in space? Will being in space bring on osteoporosis? How do you go to the bathroom in space? Why do we need to send a mission to Mars? How do you slow down a space shuttle?

School children from Sarangani Province posed NASA engineers Adam Gilmore and Sabrina Singh with such questions when they visited select public elementary and high schools recently as part of a Science Caravan organized by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation, Inc., in cooperation with the US Embassy Public Affairs Section, the US Agency for International Development, and the US Peace Corps.

Gilmore, Division Chief Engineer for the Space Shuttle Program, presented videos of actual space shuttle launches as seen from different camera angles. Using household items such as paper, index cards, tape, and a drinking straw, he taught students how to build a simple rocket, and explained how fins function as a self-correcting stabilizer to keep them on a straight flight path. An exercise involving students arranged in the formation of the solar system demonstrated how the moon "changes" shape—from a crescent to a half moon, to a full moon.

Meanwhile, Singh, a Spacewalk and Spacesuit Systems Specialist, explained how astronauts live in space. She described how astronauts eat, breathe, bathe, and sleep during their stay in the International Space Station, 400 kilometres above the earth, on missions that may range anywhere from two weeks to six months. She also showed samples of vegetables, meat, and juices that had been vacuum-packed for consumption in space. A definite highlight of her session was the presentation of a real spacesuit. After explaining its features and functionalities, Singh allowed the students to inspect the spacesuit up close and even try it on. 

Arnel Casanova, Executive Director of the Asia Society Philippines, stated that the objective of the program was to "Free the minds of our children, encourage them to dream big dreams and give them the courage to pursue them through education."

Singh emphasized Casanova's remarks, saying, "The key, we've learned, is to expose children to something different, in a way that is very tangible and personal to their daily lives."

Indeed, the Science Caravan seemed to have struck a chord, with students asking relentless questions even after the official sessions ended. Gilmore urged the students to "Set a goal for [themselves] and believe that you can be anything you want to be."

Casanova, Gilmore, and Singh are alumni of the Asia Society's Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative, a multi-sectoral network of young leaders from across the Asia Pacific and the US.   The concept for the NASA Science Caravan was borne out of a simple conversation between the three young leaders in November 2009.

The activities in Malapatan and Alabel were organized in cooperation with the Provincial Government of Sarangani, led by Governor Migs Dominguez, provincial officials of the Department of Education, and the Alcantara Foundation.

Reported by Abigail Pacquing, the Philippine-based Program Associate for the Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative.