HOUSTON — Four days before its 12th annual Space Week, West Ward Elementary School sent its fifth-graders on a journey of inspiration.
Forty-five students spent Thursday learning at Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center.
It was the sixth year for the school to make the field trip, which serves as a preface for a week of space saturation when the school will host an astronaut, conduct rocket launches and welcome a large cast of science professionals.
The trip to Houston, which makes for a 12-hour school day, pays dividends in the form of inspiration.
“It’s inspirational to be at the scene where it all happens,” said principal Maureen Adams, who said the trip to Houston is the next-best thing to taking all her students to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
When the fifth-graders dive into their lead roles during Space Week, the activities will connect back to the experiences at the NASA center.
Students took a tram tour of the Johnson Space Center, where they sat in the mission control room that guided space shuttle missions. They walked through Rocket Park, touching retired rocket engines and gazing at the Saturn V rocket that fills a warehouse.
They observed the center’s astronaut training facility and played interactive games designed to teach math and science. They tried on astronaut helmets and walked past cases containing spacesuits.
Starting Monday, the fifth-graders will work together to build a replica of the space shuttle and learn a script simulating an actual mission to the International Space Station.
Fifth-grade teacher Teresa Garvin said the trip goes beyond space and the week of emphasis on space science.
“It exposes the kids to so many things they have never seen,” Garvin said, pointing out the sight of the downtown Houston skyline and the responsibility of budgeting their gift shop money.
“When they see and touch they can understand it,” she said of the science elements of the trip.
“It helps them understand,” she said. “They will build a (model) shuttle, which they have seen, they will build a mission control and a space station and they saw it here instead of me just telling them.”
Fifth-grader Johnny Lujan was so excited about a simulator he rode in that he could only act out what it was like.
With a big smile on his face, he shook his body. “It shakes, like in space,” he said of the capsule. “You’re staying in place, but it feels like you’re moving.”
While most of West Ward’s Space Week is during the school day, family science night is from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and is open to the public.