Questacon launches students on zero-gravity journey of discovery

Photo of the Mission Astronautica videoconference, MC and audience in Questacon's Japan Threatre

Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre is giving students a glimpse into working in space through today’s launch of Mission Astronautica.

Mission Astronautica is a two-month student research project developed by Questacon in partnership with Raytheon Australia and NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston, Texas. Around 150 students from eight schools in five Australian states will participate in the project.

Today’s launch connected the students for a videoconference mission briefing from former NASA astronaut, Clay Anderson, highlighting how astronauts are trained at the Raytheon-operated NBL. The facility’s enormous pool simulates the micro-gravity conditions of space through the use of neutrally buoyant space suits and submerged mock-ups of spacecraft.

Mr Anderson challenged the school groups to build their own neutrally buoyant objects from simple materials and complete a set of tasks. Throughout the project period, students will work with Questacon to develop their ideas and report back to the NBL in September. Engineers from the NBL and Raytheon will give the students advice along the way.

Mr Anderson said, ‘During my 30-year association with NASA, I have logged 167 days in space. My training at the NBL played a critical role in my successful space flights. I hope this project ignites in these students the same interest in science that propelled me into a career as an astronaut.’

Questacon Director, Professor Graham Durant, said, ‘We’re thrilled to be able to give Australian students a chance to talk to staff from the world’s leading astronaut training facility and explore the challenges of preparing for a space mission.’

‘Interactive videoconferencing is an exciting, growing program area for Questacon. Through our Schmidt Studio, we connect Australian classrooms with local and international scientists to share the latest cutting edge science.’

‘Since 2010 we have connected more than 10 000 students and teachers from 300 schools around Australia and with their peers in the USA, New Zealand and Asia,’ said Professor Durant.

Mission Astronautica represents the newest phase of Raytheon’s partnership with Questacon, following the company’s decision to financially support the Schmidt Studio in 2010.

Raytheon Australia’s Managing Director, Michael Ward said, ‘As part of its commitment to the engineers of the future, Raytheon is delighted to be part of this exciting project and to have the opportunity to draw on the company’s role in training NASA astronauts. Ours is a trusted partnership with Questacon and we hope that together, we will inspire students with maths and science.

Mission Astronautica will integrate in Australia scores of students from across the country through a video conferencing capability made possible by Questacon’s Schmidt Studio."

Media contact: Annie Harris, Senior Communications Advisor – Media, 0439 399 912.

Further information is available at Mission Astronautica.