Saturday, June 09, 2007

Orbiter for Educators: Next Frontier?

Is this the launch pad for the future of space flight? A bare table with a couple of PC's, a joystick, a projector, and a bunch of wires, in front of a WWII era F4U Corsair? Actually it's just my Orbiter table at today's Space Expo 2007 at the New England Air Museum, but there a couple of dozen young people got to watch a simulated shuttle launch, experience docking with the ISS and landing the space shuttle, and learn a bit about forces and motion in the process. I also introduced Orbiter to a few educators and fellow space enthusiasts (most of whom declined a test flight).

There were some 400 attendees all together, with around sixteen exhibits, plus retired NASA astronaut Winston Scott, who was probably the biggest draw. I spoke briefly with him and invited him to check out Orbiter (I told him I had even installed an add-on F-14 in his honor, since he flew Tomcats in the Navy), and while he expressed interest, he just didn't have the time. He's an excellent speaker and a very modest and down-to-Earth guy. I would have liked to talk with him more, but there were a lot of people, so I'll just have to learn more from his book, Reflections from Earth Orbit, which I bought today.

Orbiter "test flights" were pretty popular with kids and their parents, most of whom had the usual reaction ("it's free?"). I had a single page information sheet to give to visitors to help them find Orbiter on line and get started with it. I also had two printed copies of Go Play In Space to show (one of which disappeared from the table). A few observations:

The joystick is a draw, and is pretty essential for landing the shuttle (for which I used a playback until short final when the visitor would take the stick). It's not really that great for docking, but it's more fun than the key pad. I made up large labeled diagrams for RCS control with the stick (I programmed buttons for translation and hover engine controls).

Working with one kid at a time like a coach or flight instructor worked quite well with about 10-20 minutes spent with each one. I also had the notebook running with the projector, usually an Orbiter flight recorder playback of the STS-115 shuttle launch and climb to orbit.

I need to carry a small model of the shuttle or even an aircraft to use when explaining rotation vs. translation. It was pretty silly doing this with a water bottle or piece of paper.

All in all, an interesting and enjoyable space event for the general public.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Wow - that's pretty cool and a great way to educate folks about spaceflight. The hardest thing about Orbiter that I've found is just setting it all up, downloading all the right items and then having enough time to re-familiarize myself with it everytime I try to use it. I just don't have the time to get as immersed as you obviously have. Keep up the great work!