The successful completion of the first commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station occurred May 31 when the Space X Dragon capsule parachuted back to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
The historic mission demonstrated to the world that the practical application of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in the real world can accomplish something truly amazing.
While the Space X mission was wrapping up, nearly 1,000 fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students from schools around the Antelope Valley, including fifth and sixth graders from Branch Elementary School, prepared to display their knowledge of STEM by competing in the 8th Annual Intermediate Space Challenge at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Between 10 a.m. and noon, the next generation of engineers and scientists, from 28 classes, launched Estes rockets to altitudes well above 700 feet.
“Now most of these kids probably never knew that there was a Dragon coming home today, but this is really a landmark moment. It’s a goose bump, pinch me day,” said Stuart Witt, Mojave Air and Space Port CEO and general manager. “Now to say that tomorrow’s workforce is here today, these kids will be looking for jobs in the future and could be technicians and engineers for these companies. The Intermediate Space Challenge actually shows a pathway for kids and at every opportunity we want to connect the dots for them.”
The event provides young students with a unique opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom and transform their knowledge into practical application. Their rockets may have been much smaller than the Space X Falcon 9 that launched the Dragon capsule into space, but the event showed students firsthand how their knowledge of STEM in the classroom provides them with the skills to accomplish truly great things.
“This event is all about kids, space and putting some meat into the STEM education issue nationwide. It offers students a connection to have fun with what they’re learning in the classroom. They can apply what they’re learning in the classroom, so it becomes fun and more interesting,” said Witt. “It teaches them applied math and business courses, gives them the chance to fly their rockets twice in a controlled environment, where they can see what they’ve learned and accomplished.”
Although the Intermediate Space Challenge has been ongoing for eight years, it was the first year that Branch Elementary School has participated in the event.
In preparation for the event, the fifth grade class taught by Michele McCormick and the sixth grade taught by Kim Cantrell each had to write an essay, assemble and decorate an Estes rocket, as well as create a team banner.
Assisting with the project as a coach and mentor was Christopher Barnum, Antelope Valley College student, who also attended Cantrell’s sixth grade class. Working for Firestar Technologies at the Mojave Air and Space Port, studying mathematics in college, and familiar with building Estes rockets; Barnum served as both a coach and mentor to the students at Branch Elementary School.
At the Mojave Air and Space Port, students competed in categories such as the essay, rocket performance, rocket integration, banner design and the “most spirited.”
When the event was over, Branch Elementary School walked away with nine awards – an impressive feat for the school’s first year competing at the event. Both classes received first place honors for excellence in their essays, most creative banners and excellence in rocket integration.
They competed against visiting schools outside the Mojave Unified School District for highest average altitude with their rockets, for which the sixth grade class received first place and the fifth grade class won second place. Additionally, McCormick’s class had the distinction of receiving the Announcer’s Choice Award for the most creative banner.
“Branch is really starting to come alive. There are so many things that we are getting involved with. It’s great to see the students inspired by the STEM subjects,” said McCormick. “Seeing the teamwork is also amazing. It was difficult at times, but it was incredible to watch it all come together and to see the success of this project. Not to mention, seeing how proud they are. Students were walking around congratulating and complimenting each other, it has been a great experience and very rewarding.”
Although not eligible for the massive traveling trophy, as the school is not in the Mojave Unified School District, the banners are proudly displayed in the hallway at the school and Branch Elementary looks forward to competing and excelling in future STEM oriented competitions.
According to Cantrell, the school is looking into holding their very own rocketry competition next year.