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Lincoln has a new class of astronauts

West Lincoln-Broadwell students return from Mission Mars     Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 9, 2007]  Twenty-six West Lincoln-Broadwell School eighth-graders returned to earth Friday afternoon after two years on Mars. They launched from the Challenger Learning Center in Bloomington on Friday morning and in a few short hours experienced some of the amazing aspects of space exploration in much the same way as real astronauts and space scientists do.

The true-to-life space program allows students to see the importance of skills they have been learning in the classroom, how their commitment to prepare themselves has impact on others and how accumulated learning leads into their future.

Science teacher Mrs. Barb Bowlby and math teacher Ms. Val Mammen prepared their students for their trip months in advance. But once they arrived at the center the teachers became foreign ambassadors who didn't speak English. The center's staff commanders engaged the students from that moment on.

The group was given a choice of missions to pursue: Rendezvous with a Comet or Mission Mars. The students chose to send a space station team to Mars for two years.

Once they've been launched into space, the teams set to work on the space station. Students using robotics concentrate on examining space minerals.

The course is designed to bond the students as they see how individual performance is important to the whole group's success. At given times an individual or team's performance may become critical to the success of the whole mission.

First the students were divided in half. One group was launched into space and the other remained on earth to man the control room. In both locations they were assigned to special task teams to fill roles that fit with their skills and interests, such as robotics, chemical and mineral analysis, medical, navigation, data, or communications.

Mrs. Bowlby said that the students got into their roles quickly. "They were focused and serious in what they were doing," she said.

Not long after everything is up and running, the students begin to learn that their team is just as important as any other and they must rely on one another for successes, and sometimes even survival. Experiences during the program show that the work of an individual or specialized team is as critical as the work of the whole team.

Unanticipated interjects in the course of the mission require quick thinking. A problem with declining oxygen levels on the space station had everyone scratching their heads, Mrs. Bowlby said. They had one minute to fix it. "Then all of a sudden they all came up with a solution. You should have seen the look on Alex's (the student that had to do the work to fix it) face when he finally got the last light to go out, and the others that were all watching, relieved," she said. Then, they broke out in applause.

Halfway through the program, the control room and space teams switch places. Students were so wrapped up in the experience that they responded much like in a real-life experience. Some even hugged as they passed each other.

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When the program was over, the class visited the Prairie Aviation Museum, which they also enjoyed, and then they made a quick, sweet trip to Krispy Kreme before returning home.

Heritage In Flight sponsored the class by paying the Challenger Learning Center program fee. This was the third year HIF has sponsored a class. The first year Mr. Doug Radar took a class from Chester-East Lincoln. Last year Mrs. Laura Irwin, Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Carroll took four Lincoln Junior High classes to the center. Other local businesses helped sponsor the Lincoln Junior High trip.

Heritage In Flight liaison Curt Fox, who also attended the program, said, "I'm really impressed with the job the two teachers did preparing their students."

He spoke most highly of the Challenger Learning Center staff and their program. He said that they have continued to add realistic experiences to the program.

About eight students and their teachers attended the HIF meeting on Saturday to give a report of their experience. The students were asked for their assessment of the program. All agreed that it was a great experience. One boy said, "You learn a lot and have a lot of fun," and another said, "It was probably the best field trip I ever had."

The Challenger Center

The Challenger Learning Center in Bloomington is one of 52 in the world. The Bloomington center has programs designed to suit to all ages. Programs include social missions for families and large groups as well as team-building exercises for the corporate world. The school program remains their emphasis.

You can learn more about the center at

Heritage In Flight Museum is located at the Logan County Airport. Tours or visits can be arranged by calling 217-732-3333. You'll find HIF and other aviation museums listed at
, or visit

[Jan Youngquist]

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