Report by David McAfee, Australian Science and Mathematics School 2013

The National Space Camp was held from Wednesday 17th April to Saturday 20th April 2013. It allowed students from South Australia and the Northern Territory to travel to Strathmore in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne to the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC).

National Space Camp VSSEC 2013 171-L National Space Camp VSSEC 2013 224-L

Over the course of the program, the group attended a public lecture with Astronaut Paolo Nespoli who spoke about his time on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery as a specialist of STS-120 and went through an array of activities at VSSEC. During his presentation, Paolo detailed the training that he went through to become an astronaut and what happened to him when he was living away from Earth. Paolo has spent a total of 174 days in space, almost six months.

One of the activities during the Mission to Mars program involved taking specialist roles on a simulated Mars surface as chemists, geologists and biologists, whereas the other activities gave the opportunity to work in a mission control environment. The key part of the Mission to Mars investigation was to find whether life may have possibly lived on Mars. Finding bacterial life may assist in the great mystery of whether Earth is home to the only complex life in the universe or whether there is something else out there.

Mission controllers were connected to the astronauts in real time and the collaboration gave a sense of how astronauts work with those back on Earth to explore foreign terrain. The course at VSSEC also provided an insight into some of the problems and limitations of discovering Mars, providing the group with a scientific understanding of the effects of solar radiation and dust storms in space. Mission control was a unique experience as mathematical and science questions were solved in order to fix anomalies and problems while the results and recording from astronauts were taken.

Laboratory work and experiments were also part of the program with astronaut training involving measuring blood pressure, looking at visual acuity and understanding the effects of weightlessness in a microgravity environment.

Other research and laboratory work was part of the Mission to the Orbiting Space Laboratory where individual roles were assigned for work with agriculture in space, controlling robotic arms and performing chemical analysis. Each task was based on the scientific experiments that are currently being conducted on the International Space Station and provided an experience to try some exciting experiments with a range of different problem solving skills.

The purpose of the camp was to raise awareness of space science and encourage students to pursue a field in science through tertiary studies. There was a lot of information and unique facts that were shared over the course of the camp. One thing that I personally thought was quite interesting is the prospect that astronauts need to not just know the facts behind things but also come up with creative ideas under a large amount of pressure. It truly does give you an appreciation for what they do.

The VSSEC building was constructed in 2006 and now currently has many science programs for students in primary to upper secondary schooling. It is on the Strathmore Secondary College grounds and provides an excellent education experience for individuals wanting to venture into space.