On Feb. 6, SpaceX launched a rocket from Florida that the company envisions could one day carry supplies to the moon.
Two weeks later, NASA had students from Pendleton High School working on how humankind could establish a lunar colony.
Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, a collaboration between NASA and the University of Washington, set down on Pendleton as a part of an outreach program.
Academics working with the pipeline took over several PHS classes, giving short lectures and conducting experiments under a single theme: What would it take for humans to colonize the moon?
It’s not exactly an easy answer. A video showed during science teacher Glenn Johnston’s class stated that it would take an estimated $10 billion to establish a lunar settlement and another $2 billion per year to maintain, figures that far exceed NASA’s current budget.
While one student answered “Wi-Fi” when asked what were the essentials for extraterrestrial colonization, the pipeline team established five basic needs: water, oxygen, food production, energy and transport. Each science class session revolved around an experiment that demonstrated that need.
Multiple classes touched on the importance of drinking water in space.
With weight being a premium on spaceships, astronauts aren’t able to take large amounts of water with them on missions. The International Space Station recycles urine and sweat to keep its inhabitants hydrated.
“Today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee,” said Isabel Carrera, a doctoral student in the University of Washington’s environment program.
Quinn Oksoktaruk, a Washington geology student, demonstrated the value of a water purifier in space.
After mixing together water, Italian salad dressing and sand, Oksoktaruk made a makeshift filter. He then had the students make water filters of their own using household items like coffee filters, cotton, sand and pebbles.
One by one, students turned the water from a sickly yellow to varying levels of gray. In space, Oksoktaruk said the water would be filtered multiple times before it would be given back to astronauts to consume.
In one of the neighboring classrooms, Carrera said electricity also plays a crucial role in determining whether water is safe to drink. Water with contaminants is more likely to conduct electricity while pure H20 doesn’t.
Carrera had students isolate oxygen and hydrogen in water by using baking soda, sugar, a plastic container, aluminum foil, a battery and rubber bands.
Other classes used different projects to explore a different necessity: a session on energy had students use a circuit board to create a speaker, the lesson on food production used hydroponics to show how food could be produced without soil, and a transportation project required kids make cardboard lunar rovers.
Tedrick Mealy, the outreach coordinator for the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium, organized the event.
Mealy said the visit from the pipeline group was an effort to make NASA projects and STEM subjects relate to high school students across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
The visit is meant to establish connections with both students and teachers. The pipeline can connect students with NASA after-school programs and summer camps aligned with school curriculum.
In turn, teachers can rely on NASA’s STEM expertise to help them feel more comfortable teaching more technical subjects like robotics.
Mealy said all of this is done in an effort to avoid going “over their heads,” adding that the pun was not intended.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.