Deerfield camp encourages students to explore space, design experiments

Teams of area middle and high school students will have the opportunity this summer to design a science experiment that could be performed in outer space.

Participants will create the experiment at a three-day camp running June 28-30 at Deerfield High School. Organizer Michelle Lucas said the camp uses space as a launching pad for engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Dubbed Go for Launch, Lucas said the Deerfield program is the first operated by her nonprofit organization, Higher Orbits. There will be nine more this year at other locations across the country.

Along with Lucas, who worked for NASA before entering the private sector, students will be learning from Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, a retired astronaut who spent 10 years in the program.

"They'll learn everything that goes into planning a space mission from designing a mission patch to planning for a three-year mission Mars journey," Lucas said. "The people who will staff that mission (if it occurs) will be kids who are in middle school and high school now."

Though the students will talk about all the things they may need should they leave earth for three years, Lucas said the most important project during the three-day session will be developing an experiment they want to see performed in space.

Participants will be divided into teams where collaboration will be as important as knowledge to create their test situation, according to Lucas. Work will be done each day and at the end judges will pick a winner at the middle and high school levels.

At the end of the year, the Deerfield winners will be judged against the experiments created by the other classes in Higher Orbits with one overall victor picked from the middle school classes and another for the high schoolers.

"The winning experiment will be tested in space on the International Space Station," Lucas said.

She said she has made all necessary arrangements for that to happen.

The cost of the program is $250, according to Lucas. She said families should not let cost be a factor. She will make arrangements for those who need it.

Perspective winners can take some lessons from Metcalf-Lindenburger, who has participated in a space flight. If asked, she will tell them what the earth looks like from 200 miles away while traveling around the planet every 90 minutes.

"I could see Chicago. I could totally see the outline of all the Great Lakes," Metcalf-Lindenburger said. "When you look down it's difficult to make out the buildings but you can see the outline of the roads."

While Metcalf-Lindenburger said she will be teaching facts and figures, she also hopes she can motivate others to achieve their dreams.

"When I was in middle school I had a teacher who saw I was good in science and helped me," Metcalf-Lindenburger said. "I hope I can do that for somebody else."

Another thing Metcalf-Lindenburger can do is put into words the feeling of being weightless.

"It's something like being in water but you're not in water," Metcalf-Lindenburger said. "You are much more free."

Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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