An Illinois Space Day visitor looks through a telescope.

Illinois Space Day Exposes Young Visitors to "Space, the Final Frontier..."

October 19, 2018

"Space Travel Is Out of This World!" This was the message, emblazoned across the front of the event's bright orange t-shirts, that Aerospace Engineering (AeroE) students participating in Illinois Space Day (ISD) sought to convey to the 150+ young people and family members who showed up for the October 6th outreach. Hosted by the Illinois Space Society (ISS) along with other AeroE organizations, the fun-filled day featured all kinds of space-related activities. For instance, participants could view exhibits of various rocket designs, marvel at demos where things were heated with a blow torch or frozen with liquid nitrogen then shattered, plus participate in numerous hands-on activities, such as designing and testing a rocket or participating in an egg-drop competition.

Two young visitors show off the parachute they built for the egg drop activity.Two young visitors show off the parachute they built for the egg drop activity.

Previously this event had been intended for K-8 students, but this year ISS expanded both their projects and activities to include high-school-age students as well.

One of the most popular activities was the egg drop competition, where teams of 3-4 members would build a contraption to house an egg, then drop it from a predetermined height—basically three stories—to see if their design enabled the egg to survive the fall! Not only was the egg drop a fun, creative experience, it also taught students about the effects of rapid deceleration and gravity. Another fun activity was a station where children of all ages could draw their version of space. Drawings were displayed behind the booth and formed a beautiful, colorful mural of all sorts of colors, none of which were even close to black. Drawing both allowed kids to flex their creative muscles and also showed them just how vast space can be. After all, if 50 unique drawings can’t capture all of it, how can anything?

In charge of recruiting students to the event was Natalie Pfister, the PR manager for ISS and a junior in Aerospace Engineering. She reached out to many schools and community groups like the Girls Scouts and the Boy Scouts to advertise the event. When asked why she wanted to get young students involved in Illinois Space day, she replied:

ISS PR manager Natalie Pfister shows off the t-shirt they designed for ISD. ISS PR manager Natalie Pfister shows off the t-shirt they designed for ISD.

A member of Illinois Space shows a visitor their rocket they built.A member of Illinois Space shows a visitor the rocket they built for a competition.

Illinois Space Society Membership Enrichment Director, Ben O'Hearn, at Illinois Space Day.Illinois Space Society Membership Enrichment Director, Ben O'Hearn, at Illinois Space Day.

Two brothers build spacecraft during ISD's Lego hands-on activity.Hudson Riehl watches as his two sons build spacecraft during ISD's Lego hands-on activity.

“Space science is sort of a niche, but is a really awesome area of science. It’s one of those things that not all students have access to. With our day, it’s completely free to all attendees, so we can access communities in the area that don’t have the sort of supplementary educational opportunities to get students interested in the field.” She went on to explain how her own involvement in the field came about:

“In third grade, I did my project on black holes because I've always loved space, but I actually didn’t know aerospace engineering was an option until my junior year of high school.” Events like ISD can help inform students that no matter what interests or hobbies they might have, there will be a career path for them.

Another student who volunteered at Illinois Space Day was Ben O’Hearn. Similar to Natalie, he wanted to get young kids involved early in the sciences so that they could figure out what they want to be when they grow up—partly because he never got to participate in events like this when he was a kid. He elaborated:

“I never really did anything like this when I was younger. I really didn't like math or science or anything until I was a senior in high school, so I never really had exposure to stuff like this, and I definitely would encourage younger kids to get exposed to this.”

Many families brought their young children to ISS’s Space Day to both have a fun outing and to expand their kids’ interests beyond phones and video games. For instance, Hudson Riehl brought his two sons and his daughter to ISD because he and his wife “thought it would be a great opportunity for them to expand upon their interests and see if it's something that sparks some future education and vocation.”

Another family, the Thatikondas, attended ISD because both of their daughters are very interested in science. The elder, Sathvik, is in eighth grade and already knows what she wants to do when she grows up: “I want to be the person who controls the drone and makes them.” She really enjoys coming to these types of events because “it’s really fun to learn about science and how outer space works because there’s no other place that you can really learn about it other than from people that are actually learning about it, and their professor is teaching them so we can get hands-on experience too.” The younger daughter, Samiha, who is in fourth grade, says that her favorite part of the entire day was watching marshmallows be frozen in liquid nitrogen to simulate the cold of outer space. She adds, “My favorite thing was watching the thing that goes up and eats the marshmallows.”

All in all, ISS’s Illinois Space Day was a great success. Many children had a lot of fun and everyone there learned something that they didn’t know before. Making science fun to learn is a great way to get kids interested in it as a field, and ISD more than makes it fun; it makes it cool! Whether through drawing the night sky or protecting eggs from the forces of gravity, kids learned a lot about how the world around them works, and some may have been inspired to think about becoming a space scientist when they grow up. In any case, one important lesson should be taken from Illinois Space Space Day: reach for the stars!

Story by Nick O'Connell. Photos by Betsy Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative, unless otherwise noted.

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More: Aerospace Engineering, Undergrad, 2018

A local family enjoying Illinois Space Day.
Illinois Aerospace students do a demo for a group of visitors.
An Illinois Space Day volunteer gives young visitors marshmallows frozen in liquid nitrogen.An Illinois Space Day volunteer dishes out marshmallows frozen in liquid nitrogen to young visitors.
Visitors at Illinois Space Day learn about ow orbits decay.Visitors at Illinois Space Day learn about how orbits decay.