One summer camp class this past summer was out of this world—the NASA Science, Technology and Exploration Program, facilitated by Miriam Allersma, physical science teacher. The program, called NASA STEP, was a two-week class focused on activities in science research and space technology using astrobiology as a theme. Rachelle Koch, Gr.10, attended, along with Harker students Sarika Asthana, also Gr. 10 and juniors Meghna Chatterjee, Christine Chien, Nikhil Parthasarathy and 19 students from other schools. “Since I’m interested in science, I figured it would be a fun and educational experience,” Koch said.
“The basis of the camp was creating our own ‘Mission to Mars,’ so most of what they taught us was related to Mars in some way,” Koch said. The class broke into groups of four and “we had to make sure we covered every aspect of traveling to Mars, conducting research there and somehow transmitting the research back to Earth. It was challenging because we had to take all of the things we learned over the two weeks and somehow apply it to this project,” Koch said.
One of the high points was a light-pollution-free, three-day camping trip to Lassen National Park. “We went hiking, made campfires, went to caves, walked through the forest at night, and watched satellites and shooting stars in the sky — the list goes on and on,” noted Koch. “It was really fun because I have never really gone on an outdoor camping trip, so this was quite the experience.”
For Koch, the camp helped see our world as it sits in space. “The most surprising thing I learned was that there is a large amount of space debris floating around Earth,” she said, “mostly defunct satellites. Yet, when we look up in the night sky, all we see are stars. I guess that puts Earth’s size in perspective, despite the masses of junk in the atmosphere.”
Attending the camp has helped Koch refine her career thoughts. “I think a job in space exploration, or something related to it, would be very interesting!” she noted. “I learned that people can be anything and still work for NASA, you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist, although I would definitely pick something medical or scientific involved with space exploration for a career.”