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Lahaina Intermediate students encounter space debris and international cooperation

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Oct 3, 2019

Lahaina Intermediate School students were among 150 middle and high school students and educators attending the Space Exploration Student Session at the 2019 AMOS Conference. PHOTO BY JOSE MORALES.

LAHAINA – Lahaina Intermediate School students were among 150 middle and high school students and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) educators welcomed by the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (AMOS) on Sept. 20 at the Wailea Beach Resort, Maui.

The conference and the Space Exploration Student Session, presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), thrilled attendees, who got to meet astronaut Dr. Edward Lu and visit the numerous exhibit booths for hands-on STEM activities.

AMOS, the premier technical conference in the nation devoted to Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM), brought together a record-breaking 919 participants from 18 countries, the largest in its history. A cross-section of private sector, government and academia addressed all aspects of space security and space policy from a global perspective.

“Discussions included views on effective international cooperation in space and the long-term sustainability of the space environment,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB president and CEO.

“With the advent of mega constellations, active spacecraft and inactive objects in orbit, the total number of space objects is likely to double within the next decade. This will increase the probability of collisions, making normal daily life vulnerable to any disruption in the functioning of satellites.”

Lori Ann Koyama, Lahaina Intermediate STEMworks Media Production and Graphics teacher, said, “Events like this expose our students to the unknown and excite them into future STEM careers.

“There were a lot of ideas and hands-on experiments that the students will be taking back to the classroom. In fact, gaining firsthand knowledge about science applications that are needed for the next century will drive students the most.”

“For me, just exposing the students to the technology that is here today is huge,” said Koyama. “Many of our group did not know most of these organizations existed and that there is such a thing as space debris – something we all have to be concerned about. That’s important!”

Koyama continued, “Plus, they learned that a lot of the satellites in space are responsible for their daily activities like cell phone and Wi-Fi use, which tremendously interested them. At one of the exhibits, they clearly saw the importance of international cooperation to help keep space safe.”

“Additionally, the students got to meet an actual astronaut, Dr. Lu.,” Koyama said. “They asked questions about his time in space and also heard how he later led the Advanced Projects Group at Google, which built imaging and data gathering systems for Google Earth and Maps.”

Dr. Lu, currently the executive director of the Asteroid Institute, served as a NASA astronaut for 12 years. He flew aboard the Space Shuttle twice, flew on the Russian Soyuz to the International Space Station and has logged over 206 days in space. He received numerous commendations for his space service, including NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

“It takes 90 minutes for the space station to orbit the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour,” Dr. Lu explained to the students. “So, going that fast, if we hit space debris, it is a real problem. That is what this conference is all about. People from all nations working together to keep space clean and safe.”

Lahaina Intermediate seventh-grader Kai Shively said, “Meeting astronaut Lu was so exciting. He explained about how dangerous space debris is for the Space Station and other satellites in space. When he was on the Space Station, he felt debris hit a window, but luckily it did not do much damage. However, when Dr. Lu did his spacewalk, he saw other dents from debris and realized what an enormous problem it is.”

Taika Swearinger, seventh grade student, exclaimed, “I love science! It is so much fun to be here! I learned a lot about different jobs in space and how we need to clean up the space debris ‘now,’ because it is really dangerous to all our lives, as well as to all the satellites in space that cost millions of dollars. I’m so grateful to Dr. Lu and all the industry professionals who made me aware of a whole new world of space exploration that I want to learn about.”

Swearinger mentioned the Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) exhibit as a favorite.

“I was shown software discussing the situation of debris and objects in space. There are many satellites in orbit, and they affect our daily life in more ways than we usually think about. After viewing the AGI software, I realized that we are the protectors of Earth, and so we need to care for it by also making space safe,” Swearinger said.

AGI provides software for future engineers, operators, analysts and developers working on land, sea, air and space systems through their Educational Alliance Program (EAP).

“Participants in AGI’s EA Program prepare for their careers using the most innovative industry tools available,” said Alexander Ridgeway, senior system engineer, AGI, Tokyo.

“With this exposure and training, students are well-equipped to enter the workforce and change the world. Working with middle and high school students is exciting because it opens up new opportunities that they may never have thought about. Plus, as long as humankind continues to use space, students worldwide need to become excited about space-related careers.”

Shively added, “After the discussion at AGI and other exhibits at AMOS, I want to be an engineer to help take care of our space environment. Debris is serious. Dr. Lu told us about his experience with debris, and now I realize that something has to be done. I want to be part of that. Thank you, MEDB, for bringing students to AMOS to encourage us to think about our future in the space industry.”