It was nearly half-past nine, and the courtyard at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory was filling up quickly with people wanting to soak up the sun. Temperatures were rising so it was decided that Space Camp would take place in the marquee tent that was (supposed to be) keeping out the heat. Everyone was in their seats and now we were ready to go. The third day of the BCO Space Camp was about to begin. 5…4…3…2…1… LIFT-OFF!!!
The Earth-Moon system…
This morning’s first activity was all about the Earth and our Moon. The space campers had loads of fun making models of the Earth-Moon system out of play dough(even though they were not told what planetary system they were supposed to be making), which didn’t turn out to be as messy as first thought! Frances McCarthy, the brains behind the BCO Space Camp, began calling out instructions on what to do with the tubs of play dough.
When everyone was finished, it was time to guess what exactly they were modelling. Guesses included Jupiter and one of its moons, the Sun and Mercury, Mars and its tiny moon Phobos- all fairly good guesses in their own right! However they soon realised that the answer was a lot closer to home than first thought. “Is it the Earth and the Moon?”.
The tent soon filled with oohsand aahs upon this discovery. However, attention soon turned to making a model of our very own solar system. Frances once again called out the instructions and the campers knuckled down to making the best planets they’ve ever made out of dough!
It was soon time for a well-deserved water break for everyone, before the fun started again. The morning group was divided into two- the first group played the comet chaser game, while the second group learned all about the past, present and future of human space exploration.
This interactive game gave the campers the opportunity to save the Earth from being destroyed by an approaching comet. They learned all about what comets are, what they’re made of, and where they come from. They also found out about asteroids and other Near Earth Objects floating around in the vacuum of space. As a team they made easy work of finding out what the approaching comet was made of, and in the end, managed to push it off its course using the latest ESA ion rocket technology. Space Camp 1-0 Comet.
The space campers sat back and relaxed and found out all about the Apollo Programme, from none other than the last man on the Moon- Eugene Cernan. Fast forward forty years, and it was now time to learn about the space shuttle and how it helped build the International Space Station. Campers got a tour of the inside of the International Space Station, finishing up by looking down at the Earth from the station’s Cupola window.
In the end it was left to none other than Walter Cronkite to show the guys what the future of space exploration may hold. He told them what it might be like to hold a Lunar Olympic Games, with 60m pole vaults and 100m spring boards exciting the campers’ curiosity and imagination even further! It was then left to Frances to tell them that humans have not been back to the Moon since 1972- and that it’s time to go back there!
How Empty Space Really Is…
All the hard work was getting a bit tiring in the 30Degree heat, so everyone went inside to cool down. In the meantime the campers made pocket solar systems that really gave them a sense of how empty space really is, by mapping out the distances between the planets. However it was soon time to take the play dough planets that were made earlier, and make a model solar system- to scale- so that 1 meter was equal to 6m kilometres!
We started at Mercury and everyone quickly found themselves waving goodbye to play dough Earth, as we headed deeper into space than any space campers have ever been before. The gang had already walked a couple hundred feet and were only at Jupiter, as the Castle began to grow smaller and smaller in the distance. Everyone kept marching onwards and outwards towards the gas planets of our outer solar system.
We finally arrived at Uranus, and it was obvious that we were a long way from home- the castle was barely visible from here! We had walked just over half a kilometre, and if we wanted to get to Pluto we would have to walk just as far! However, upon arriving at Uranus, the campers really got a sense of how small the Earth is amongst our planetary neighbours, and how much “space” there is between us! It was time to head for home.
How Small we are in the Universe…
Before finishing up for the day, it was time to give the campers an even greater sense of perspective of how small we are in the universe. Each child was given a galaxy and had a blast cutting out pictures of their assigned galaxy and pasting it onto a CD. Frances then told them all about the different kinds of galaxies, and how far away they are from our very own Milky Way.
After everything had been tightly glued and secured, it was time to map out these galaxies on a universal scale. Some campers didn’t have to go far- only three or four meters(as their galaxy was a lot closer to us than the others), while other campers found out that if they were to map out the distance between the Milky Way and their galaxy on this scale- they would be walking all the way to Youghal- nearly 50km away!
At the end of the day when it was time to go home, one thing you could not help but notice is how much the space campers wanted to return the next day and learn more! What more could you want? However, Frances thinks the reason for this is because there is something that makes BCO Space Camp unique to other camps kids these days might sign up for:
“The special thing about space camp is that everything you do here is not only hands-on, but brains-on, and that’s what makes it enjoyable for the kids at the end of the day”.
Just from looking at the Space Camp and how much the campers already know about space exploration and astronomy in general at their age, the future certainly looks bright. Perhaps one of these guys will become Ireland’s first astronaut, or even better, the first human on Mars! Ad Astra!