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Space for science

Five Indian students talk about their recent visit to NASA to learn about space science



A Science soiree Students at the space camp

One traces a tinge of epiphany coupled with a sense of bliss when these five teenagers elaborate on their experience of spending a week at the famed Advanced Space Academy, Huntsville, U.S. “We learnt about various things there but our most memorable experience was meeting Story Musgrave, a six-time space shuttle astronaut,” said one of them.

The students, all in the age group of 16 to 18, were selected from Indian cities where there are U.S. Consulates after examining their interest in space science and were sent to the NASA station to hone their talent.

Teacher turns student

The trip, jointly organised by NASA with the U.S. State Department, also included a science teacher from a Jaipur school, Annu Mathur. She too was chosen after studying her seriousness about learning more about the subject.

Talking about the reason behind the trip, a U.S. embassy official said, “Accompanying the students was also a Science Teacher from Jaipur, Annu Mathur, who was chosen owing to her zeal towards academics and her past record.”

“India is a pool of talent waiting to be nudged. So, in collaboration with NASA, the State Department devised a plan to nurture this potential.” Selecting five students from thousands of school goers was “a knotty process.”

What worked for these students were their individual achievements. For instance, one of the students, Suvriti Dhawan, has confirmed the discovery of not one but three asteroids. Sharing her experience at the U.S. embassy here, this Apeejay School student said, “I practiced space walking with the help of NASA astronauts during the trip. That was quite a thing!” Yet another student, Venkatesh Suresh from Chennai, learnt how to build a space shuttle on the trip and he now aspires to go back to the U.S. after finishing his schooling.

The youngest of the bunch, Shreya Chheda from Mumbai, said she always wanted to view the galaxies and stars and this trip has fulfilled just that.

Teacher Annu Mathur too seemed to have savoured every moment of her professional training there. “It offered a hands-on learning experience that you don't get anywhere in India,” she said. There, she conducted emergency exercises, which involved diving and performing underwater operations.

Annu now will share her experiences with other teachers in the country and has a plan to inculcate a space module in her teaching syllabus. “Our country does not permit access to space research on such a vast scale, and most of these centres don't allow access to the general public and that is where NASA is a revelation,” she added.

The Indian team shared their experiences with a set of five students from Pakistani schools during this week-long space camp. A similar team was also selected from Pakistan for this week-long camp.

D.M.

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