HASSE Space School

MMC Girls took on NASA… and WON!

In December 2017 Willow Kohn (Y10 2017), Priyanka Iyer (Y12 2017) and Ms Andrea Hickey travelled to Houston, Texas as part of the Alliance of Girls Schools Queensland Group for the two-week HASSE Space School. The HASSE Space School (Houston Association for Space and Science Education) was a breathtaking, inspirational and “out of this world" trip that had us getting up close and personal with some of the most impressive achievements of humans.

 The trip started with a week-long Space University course run by Space Centre Houston adjoining Johnson Space Centre. Eager to see where the magic happens, the groups were shown around some amazing parts of Johnson Space Centre including access to the Saturn V Rocket, Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility, Historic Mission Control used for each of the Apollo missions and the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where we were able to see astronauts training for a spacewalk.

While Johnson was breathtaking, being involved in the Space University Course were equally exciting and challenging. Students and teachers were given the opportunity of designing and building working rockets that were launched and landed, (some safely), functional habitats and rovers to allow for human existence and exploration on Mars and of course cryogenic suits to avoid freezing in deep space and thermal shields to withstand re-entry through the atmosphere, all within a budget. The ability of the students to pull together and develop the skills and see their designs come to fruition was inspiring.

With rockets that flew through the sky, rovers that covered the terrain of Mars collecting samples, thermal shields that were able to withstand sustained exposure to a 1500°C flame—conditions similar to passing through the atmosphere—and suits that protected astronauts from temperatures similar to those of deep space environment at around -200°C, all of the girls not only rose to the challenge but exceeded their own expectations. The graduation from Space University at the end of the first week was extra special for some of the Queensland girls with one of the teams collecting first prize for the coding of their Mars Rover that was successfully able to navigate the first of the Mars tracks, rocks and all!

As with all fresh university graduates it was not long till the next lot of challenges were upon them—getting back to the moon. The Lunar XPRIZE Challenge consisted of getting a spacecraft to and landing safely on the Moon's surface, travelling 500m as well as transmitting high-definition video and images back to Earth. Did I mention the girls were judged by current NASA staff? Knowing the stakes were high saw energy levels sustained and the need to meet and work with people who could help them fulfil their challenge.

As a result, the second week of the HASSE Space School was spent working with members of the TXRX Hackerspace Labs to learn more about lunar rover designs, visiting a rocket company and simulating space missions. At TXRX the girls listened, designed, created virtual 3D models before getting them printed to aid in their XPRIZE presentations. The scientists and engineers at Ad Astra rocket company shared their story of their one-of-a-kind deep space rocket engine design, (a plasma engine that is more advanced than anything previously seen) and gave us inside access to the engine test chamber, as preparation for its next round of testing occurred. The final days of the trip saw the XPRIZE final presentations, an NBA game, where the Houston Rockets turned it on for us, a trip to the George Observatory to take part in deep space mission simulations and finally an opportunity to explore Rice University, a world leader in space science and nanotechnology.

The HASSE Space School was an amazing experience that exposed us to some of the most impressive achievements of humankind and developed some of the most amazing memories with new lifelong friends. The inspiration and motivation of what was achieved in such a short space of time really did highlight that if you have a goal and believe in it, you are unstoppable!