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From the "JPL Universe"
February 19, 1999

50 Ninth-Graders Learn About STARDUST And Supernovas


DeAndra Blakley, 14, learned that supernovas are the deaths of stars. Jamaal Moore, 15, found out all about the intricate contingency plans that go into the sculpting of a NASA mission.

Both ninth-graders had quite a learning experience Saturday, Feb. 6, when they joined 50 other students in a visit to JPL to view live video of the scheduled launch of the STARDUST mission, which will collect particles from a comet's atmosphere.

"I learned more about the universe and Earth - I didn't know what a supernova was," said Blakley.

"It really struck me how much they plan before sending those things up there," added Moore. "They have so many precautions, so many back-ups, so many ways to repair problems."

The youngsters are among 60 participants in the Maxine Waters Saturday Academy for Student Advancement in Math, Science and Communication, founded last fall to prepare socially and economically disadvantaged students to compete effectively at the college level.

Academy classes are held on Saturdays at Washington Preparatory High School at 108th Street and Denker Avenue in South Central Los Angeles, where Blakley and Moore coincidentally attend school full-time. The Academy is funded by NASA through JPL and is administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The big day began with a talk by Dr. Jacklyn Green about Space Technology 4/Champollion, a proposed NASA mission to land a spacecraft on the nucleus of a comet for the first time ever, launching in 2003 and landing in 2005. Hamilton Hill, an engineer on SeaWinds/QuikScat, an Earth-orbiting mission to measure ocean winds, discussed not only that mission but also posters he's created for Black History Month depicting prominent African American scientists and engineers associated with JPL through the years.

A tour of JPL's mission control and spacecraft assembly areas was followed by discussion with Dr. Donald Yeomans, JPL's Near-Earth Objects Program Manager. He answered questions about missions to comets and asteroids and displayed a sample of aerogel, a substance with the look of translucent gelatin. This lightweight substance is made of silica and is more than 99 percent air. STARDUST will use aerogel like a sponge as it travels through the atmosphere of a comet and will send its aerogel package back to Earth so scientists can analyze the cometary particles embedded in it.

"Aerogel was really fascinating for the students -- they were quite intrigued by it," Yeomans said. "I was surprised to see so many young kids at JPL on a Saturday. It speaks volumes that they're devoting their free time to the learning process."

With a gaggle of local television cameras aimed at them, the students then joined friends and family of the STARDUST staff in JPL's von Karman Auditorium to view live coverage of the mission's launch. There was just one small snag: the launch was delayed to Sunday, due to a minor radar-related problem.

But a little thing like a one-day launch delay was hardly enough to dampen the students' high spirits. Moore, a business major, summed it all up by saying, "I really appreciate how the Academy teachers and JPL scientists and engineers are taking time to help out youth. After all, a lot of kids never have the chance to get out and see new things."

For more information about this fall's Academy classes for entering ninth graders, call (323) 242-8278.

Last Updated: November 26, 2003
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