Orono fifth-grade teacher completes space camp

Orono fifth grade teacher Stephen Whitney (right) works the control panel during a simulated space flight with two other teachers earlier this month at the Honeywell Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala.
Photo courtesy of Steve Whitney
Orono fifth grade teacher Stephen Whitney (right) works the control panel during a simulated space flight with two other teachers earlier this month at the Honeywell Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala.
Posted June 26, 2011, at 8:58 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Stephen Whitney, Asa Adams Elementary School fifth grade teacher for 37 years, went to space this summer.

He attended a week-long space camp, Honeywell Rocket and Space Academy, in Huntsville, Ala. earlier this month, and got hours of intensive classroom, laboratory and training into the science of space exploration.

“I’ve been involved in several other NASA programs in the past” and “It was something I always wanted to do,” Whitney said Sunday. “It was a really great experience.”

He, and teachers from all over the world, got to take part in astronaut-style training and simulations designed to promote lifelong learning in his classroom.

At space academy, there was “a lot of presentations about what you can do in your classroom,” Whitney said. The other “50 percent was about what they put astronauts through” in order to travel into space.

At one point Whitney was put into a space suit for a simulated walk on the moon that was going fine until he couldn’t see through the suit’s face shield.

“I would have been dead” if the walk had been real, the longtime teacher said. “The space suit’s shield fogged up and I opened it to clean it.”

Real space suits worn by astronauts have face shields that are bolted down, he said.

Space academy participants, broken into teacher teams of 16, also got to do simulated space shuttle missions where they could pilot the shuttle, or work at mission control. The teams also  and had to work together to complete a mission.

“We had to assemble frame work for a structural support,” Whitney said. “We had 30 minutes to get as much done as we could.”

Whitney also got to participate in a weightlessness zero-gravity flight two years ago through a similar teacher program run by the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

Since Whitney is a science fanatic, he really enjoyed the hands-on experiments at space academy that featured everything from creating and testing heat shields to pulling DNA from fruit.

“They had really interesting hands-on experiments that you can do with kids that get them excited,” he said. “There are several that were really impressive.”

He added later that, “They actually showed how you can extract DNA from fruit using common household items. It was neat to be able to do that and you could do that in every classroom

You don’t need all this fancy [and expensive] stuff” to do science, he said. “It’s doable and you can teach it in a way everyone could understand.”

Now that he has his space academy wings, Whitey will be flying all around the region making presentations about what he learned. He has already been asked to speak at schools in Glenburn, Veazie and Orono.

“Any school that is interested, I’ll make a presentation,” he said. “Everything was really eye-opening and useful.”

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