3 … 2 …1… blast off! Academy launches

An astronaut, rocket engineer and handful of engineering students helped an elementary school launch into its first year.

The Barbara Morgan STEM Academy inaugurated its first week by having kids design, build and launch their rockets.

“We’ve had a lot of fun today,” said principal Ryan Wilhite.

Linder Elementary, built in the 1970s, was transformed over the summer into a science, technology, engineering and math academy for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. This is the Meridian School District’s fourth STEM academy.

Students at Barbara Morgan started school just three days ago but they already know about rockets and their propulsion and flight dynamics.

Astronaut and teacher Barbara Morgan takes questions from kids about her time in space.

During a school-wide assembly, astronaut Barbara Morgan asked the kids rocket-related questions and they were easily able to explain terms such as payloads and fuselage.

“I’m so proud of you guys and what you’ve learned already,” said the school’s namesake. “You are going to do very well.”

Morgan was a teacher from McCall who was selected to be a backup to Christa McAuliffe in NASA’s teacher-in-space program. McAuliffe was killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986 just after takeoff. Morgan eventually became America’s teacher in space, logging hundreds of hours aboard the Endeavour, on a mission to the International Space Station.

Morgan is a distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University, supporting STEM programs in Idaho schools.

“I want you to learn, experience and explore,” Morgan told more than 400 students during the assembly.

Morgan answered questions about her time in space. Students asked her what it felt like to sleep and what the view looked like. “You can see zillions of stars, so many it’s nearly solid white,” Morgan told them.

Future rocket engineers.

The students then went back to their rooms to work in groups of three and build rockets. BSU engineering students were there to help. The rockets were built with plastic bottles, duct tape and decorations. All had aerodynamic structures, including a tip to cut through the atmosphere and fins for stability.

All the rockets had names, such as the Blue Falcon, the Barbara Morgan and the Rapid Fire.

Some of the rockets were fired off Thursday afternoon with direction from BSU engineering professor Don Plumlee, who has designed structural airframe components for aerospace vehicles.

Plumlee gave the students official job titles to enhance the learning experience — propulsion engineer, flight dynamics engineer and rocket recovery technicians (the ones that got to gather up the pieces after landing). Then came the launch, witnessed by hundreds of parents and grandparents.

Waiting to launch
Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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