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Challenger Center partners with Bermuda for space camps

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Challenger Learning Center of Alaska
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In a summer when most people are stuck at home, a handful of local kids are not only getting to connect with another culture, but also get a glance at the future of space travel.

This week kicked off the first camp the Challenger Learning Center of Kenai is running alongside the Bermuda Ministry of Education. The two regions are very different—besides the fact that one is tropical and one is subarctic and Bermuda is a British territory, the island of Bermuda in total is about 20.5 square miles. In comparison, the City of Kenai alone is about 29 square miles. But they’re connected by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.

NASA has had a tracking station on Bermuda since the 1960s, when it helped to land the Apollo mission on the moon. But recently, with NASA’s plans through the Orion missions to put people back on the moon, they’ve renovated the station there. Kodiak is also home to a rocket launch facility, and that started the connection between the two regions.

Suzanne Philliips, director of educational operations for the Challenger Learning Center, said the partnership began with Microcom and was originally planned to bring students from Bermuda here for a camp and then send Alaska students there.

"They were putting in the satellite tracking facility in Bermuda, and they knew that we had the rocket launch facility here in Kodiak, so they thought that it would be a good partnership to look into," she said. "So they got in contact with us and put us in contact with the appropriate people in the administration in Bermuda, and things took off from there. We went to Bermuda for one week last year and did a space camp with their middle school kids, and it went so well that we wanted to facilitate a continuing partnership."

The coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold, though they didn’t stop the plans entirely. Instead, the coordinators moved the camp to a single week online put together boxes of materials to ship to campers. For example, campers received materials to build a miniature biodome—essentially, a self-contained ecosystem like the ones NASA is studying for potential space travel and exploration.

Interested students submitted videos as to why they should be included in the camp, and this week kicked off with ten middle-school students—four from Alaska and six from Bermuda. Phillips said they’re not only getting to hear from NASA scientists about the Orion missions and other aspects of space travel; they’re also learning about other cultures.

The Challenger Center has moved all of its camps online this year. Though science is always fun when students are together, Phillips said they’re still able to engage kids with the online system.

"It’s still relatively structured in that format, but you don’t have as much supervision on site, so you have to be a little more creative in the things that you do and send," she said. "And just like when a teacher is in a classroom doing something, you can still do that stuff as an instructor and facilitator from your end of the thing. You may not be quite in the room and in the space, but you still see the stuff. I know as a science person, the videos were they have all the weird little things happening and exploding, they fascinate me, and those are videos, so I imagine that even if you’re not right there in the room next to them, it’s still pretty neat."

The Challenger Center is running one more partnership camp with the Bermuda Ministry of Education this summer, currently scheduled to begin Aug. 3. Applications are due July 26. There are other camp opportunities for fourth-graders through eight-graders, with more information available on the Challenger Center’s website.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.

Elizabeth Earl is the news reporter/evening host for summer 2021 at KDLL. She is a high school teacher, with a background writing for the Peninsula Clarion and has been a freelance contributor to several publications in Alaska.
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