Wallingford school launches space program


WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – A Wallingford Elementary School celebrated the launch of its own space program on Tuesday morning.

The kids may not be leaving the ground, but they are learning about the science of space travel in a new, high-tech environment.

Students at the Fritz Elementary School began today by navigating mini Mars rovers over a red grid resembling the surface of Mars.

“Once you press start on it, you have to get it around the rocks over there.” explained 5th grader Zach O’Brien.

But before they press start, they have to use a computer to program each sphere.

“On this you have to put blocks together,” O’Brien said, holding a tablet computer. “Each block has what degrees you want to put it at, what speed and for how long.”

That’s how this trip to Mars becomes a lesson in computer coding. It’s a fun combination that Wallingford’s superintendent first saw on a U.S. Department of Commerce trip to Australia.

“I fell in love immediately and I said we have to have one of these in Connecticut and we have to have it in Wallingford,” said Wallingford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Salvatore F. Menzo “It transforms students into the role of astronauts by understanding math through science and science through math.”

A science center in Australia is helping get the Wallingford Center for Innovation and Design up and running. They are doing that with help from local companies like Collins Aerospace, where Connecticut native and former NASA astronaut Dan Burbank now works.

“I was about 8 years old when Neil and Buzz set those first footprints on the moon,” Burbacnk said. “From that point on I was always interested in space.”

Which is why it is important to get kids interested in math, science and engineering early. There is a room in the Fritz school where students will do science experiments as if they were on a space station, and another that’s a simulated mission control.

In the future, downstairs in the school will house a large-scale simulation of the surface of Mars.

“Where students will actually dress in full astronaut uniform, land on Mars, while their colleagues are giving them mission control information” Menzo said.

Thinking of bigger picture and longer term, today’s kids are the ones who are going to be tackling the science and engineering challenges behind people living on the moon or even sending a human being to Mars.

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