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Space Systems Command Volunteers Share Excitement of Space with CCUSD Students

Space Systems Command Volunteers Share Excitement of Space with LAUSD Students

Isaac Anyanwu, 11 at El Rincon Elementary School constructs a paper rocket in Culver City, California, Mar. 1, 2022. After the students constructed their rockets, they then had the opportunity to launch their rockets. (Photo by USSF Staff Sgt. Andrew Moore)

Space Systems Command Volunteers Share Excitement of Space with LAUSD Students

A student at El Rincon Elementary School inspects her paper rocket in Culver City, California, Mar. 1, 2022. After the students constructed their paper rockets, they then had the opportunity to launch their rockets. (Photo by USSF Staff Sgt. Andrew Moore)

Space Systems Command Volunteers Share Excitement of Space with LAUSD Students

Lily Long, 10, assembles her rocket during SSC’s STEM event Tuesday, March 2, 2022 at El Rincon Elementary. (Photo by USSF SSgt Andrew Moore)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- CULVER CITY, Calif. – The rockets, constructed from paper and tape, were named “The Corgi” “Moon” “The Banana” “Cuphead”  “The Floral Eclipse” “Cole” “Space Sunsets” and “Hot Tocket” and flew up to 100 feet into the air.
 
But the fifth grade students at El Rincon Elementary School cheered as loudly as if they had actually launched a Falcon 9 rocket into outer space. Cheering right alongside them were several U.S. Space Force Guardians from Space Systems Command (SSC).
 
Before the students built their rockets, Lane Gilchrist, founder and president of the STEM Coalition, along with the SSC volunteers, engaged the kids in a learning discussion about space; the basic principles behind rockets and satellites; and the kinds of work they do at SSC. They had a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience at El Rincon, whose students are known as the El Rincon Rockets.
 
When Gilchrist explained that satellites are built to last 10 to 15 years, Lily Long, 10, had a question: “Is that one year in space, or one year on Earth? Because time goes slower in space.”
 
Long already knows she wants to be a chemist and study physics as she grows up. She guessed that her rocket – “Space Sunsets” for the pink and yellow paper it was made from - would perform “medium” well because she thought “there might be a small hole in the faring where the tape didn’t quite seal it,” and seemed disappointed when her’s was the third highest of a flight of four rockets.
 
For his part, Gilchrist was delighted to be confronted by a question about relativity from a fifth grader.
 
“They ask such wonderful questions,” Gilchrist said. “They surprise us constantly with things, concepts I wouldn’t expect elementary students to know. They ask intelligent questions and that gives us a lot of encouragement - encouragement for the future that we have such bright, young minds that are hopefully going to come in one day and advance the work we’re doing now, and take care of us and our world for the future.”
 
Jonathan Stroud, SSC STEM Outreach Director, said the volunteers are impressed with the caliber of questions the students have. One fourth grader asked whether being born on Mars would make a person a Martian. The students knew that GPS stood for Global Positioning System, and a comment about satellites brought comments from a few of the students about how the moon was a “natural, not man-made” satellite. How do rockets get into space? “Really big engines called thrusters that can generate a lot of force!” a student called out.
 
“El Rincon is a STEAM school – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. Students begin learning computer coding as early as kindergarten and have an arts and innovation lab where they learn about robotics,” said Amy Hodge, principal.
 
“I think it’s really important right now, especially coming back from the pandemic, that we recognize that learning can happen not just in the classroom and at our desks,” Hodge said. “We can create something using the science, go outside, explore, and launch the rockets and learn from other people who are outside our school community. Taking all that knowledge and applying it, and seeing others in the field is very inspirational for all our students.”
 
Nicole Tibbetts, program manager for the STEM Coalition, showed the students how to construct their rockets by rolling paper around a PVC pipe and securing the farings and fins with tape, but encouraged the students to experiment with their designs. Some of the rockets launched in an arc, others spun dramatically and one flight of rockets was nearly disrupted by a low-flying bird.
 
SSC’s 2nd Lt. Cameron McMahan and Capt. Callum Long both recalled how, as children, they always enjoyed it when special visitors came to their school.
 
“I think it shows them a path,” Long said. “I know it can be kind of unbelievable when you’re a kid and you’re meeting people who are doing these awesome things, but we all started out in classrooms like these, struggling with routine algebra… it shows there’s a payoff (as an adult): you get to work on cool systems and help provide something to our country and the world.”
 
SSC 1st Lt. Avery Evans told the students about her current work on missile detection satellites and how she also got work on GPS satellites and even helped launch them as a mission director.
 
“Every single day, we use math and science,” Avery told the students. “I graduated from the Air Force Academy and math and science weren’t always my strong suit, but I’m really lucky because my coworkers are super great at math and they teach me all the time.
 
“My favorite part about math is that the more you do it, the better you are at solving everyday problems – because that’s why they’re called math problems,” Avery said. “They teach you how to be a problem solver. So even if you don’t go into math and science – if you go into art, construction, baking – whatever you do, you’re going to use math and you’re definitely going to be a good problem-solver.”
 
Isaac Anyanwu, 11, said he plans to become a software designer, because “I’m fascinated by technology and how it’s made.” He took his time choosing a name for his rocket, finally settling on “Hot Tocket” as a play on the word “rocket.”
 
The event was part of U.S. Space Force and SCC’s Space STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Outreach, a collaboration between SSC and the STEM Coalition. More than 150 SSC volunteers are visiting Los Angeles area schools this spring to explain the importance of STEM in humanity’s pursuit of knowledge in space; why it’s important for students to focus on academics even when school is challenging; the benefits of higher education and attending college; and the wide variety of interesting jobs available within the Space Force.
 
The volunteers have already worked with students at Normont Elementary in Harbor City and Meyler Street Elementary in Torrance. In coming weeks, SSC volunteers plan to visit the following Los Angeles are schools:
 
  • Zela Davis Elementary in Hawthorne
  • Caroldale STEAM Academy in Carson
  • Van Deene Avenue Elementary in Torrance
  • Halldale Elementary in Torrance
  • Lomita STEAM Magnet in Lomita
  •  Harbor City STEAM Elementary in Harbor City
  • President Elementary in Harbor City
  • Eschelman Avenue Elementary in Lomita
 
SSC is the U.S. Space Force field command responsible for developing and protecting our nation’s space capabilities. The STEM Coalition is a non-profit focused on educational outreach in the ever-growing field of STEM.