Aboard the ISS is a cube designed and programmed by the Alta Loma “SpaceEagles” space science and engineering team. The cube has a light that turns on and off based on input from a pair of heat sensors. Alta Loma Christian was one of 11 middle schools nationwide taking part in the Quest for Space Beta ISS Project, organized by the San Jose-based Quest Institute for Quality Education.
“It was a bag of parts, made for prototyping,” said Boeing engineer Jim DellaNeve, who was an adviser for the students.
Students used software from Lego Mindstorms and Microsoft to develop their project, which was then copied onto hardware that was launched into space June 3 aboard SpaceX mission CRS-11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“I knew going into it, that if it was going to be a stretch, we had the perfect kids coming to handle it,” said science teacher and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) coordinator Michelle Martinez. “And they did amazing.”
The SpaceEagles got a more authentic engineering experience than the project developers envisioned.
“It also didn’t help that Quest didn’t have the right diagrams at first,” said Jeffrey Kotz, 14, who served as project manager and head electrical engineer as a then-eighth grader. “I tried to build my own, but it didn’t work any better.”
Things going wrong, of course, was an education all its own.
“More of my role than anything was peacemaker when things got stressful,” said math teacher Jasmine Royse. “There was absolutely just as much learning in the teamwork process and in the team building process as in the engineering process.”
And those skills were needed:
“I can be challenging working with a team,” laughed Samuel Bement, 14, who was an eighth grader during the project’s construction and who served as one of two coders on the project. “But it was a great experience, learning how to work with people.”
And ultimately, that’s the most valuable skill learned on an ambitious project like the Quest for Space.
“When the pressure’s on, do you behave yourself, do you finger point? Those are real-world things that are invaluable,” DellaNeve said.
This likely won’t be the last time Alta Loma’s SpaceEagles fly:
“When it’s time to re-up, we won’t wait,” said Vance Nichols, Alta Loma Christian’s Head of School, whose father was an aerospace design engineer. “We’re in as soon as it’s available.”