Gee whiz, space diapers? NASA educator wows 8th-graders at George Fox

February 09, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Al Byers wants everyone to know the life of an astronaut is not easy or glamorous.

That's why the NASA education specialist told about 300 eighth-graders at George Fox Middle School yesterday that astronauts, while in space, have to wear adult-sized diapers before they put on spacesuits, strap themselves down before they fall asleep, and eat their food by flicking it up into the air.

"Or they can stuff their faces like pigs," Mr. Byers reasoned.

Mr. Byers also invited 13-year-old Sarah Bushman to experience wearing an oversized spacesuit and helmet.

"It was weird," she said of wearing the helmet. "I can't believe they can actually breathe with that thing on."

Mr. Byers, who works at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, is one of about 40 specialists nationwide whose duties are to travel to local schools and encourage students to make a greater commitment to learning.

Mr. Byers said he tries to help the children understand that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's accomplishments would not have been possible without some of the most inquisitive minds in the country.

"The main thing is we're here to ignite their desire to learn," he said. "Sure, we can show them some neat stuff, but we want to create a spark in them."

After every demonstration, Mr. Byers said he makes it a point to encourage students to ask their teachers for help.

"I'm here for 30 minutes and I can 'gee-whiz' them," he said. "But the teachers are here all day, and they can motivate them to do anything they want to do."

Bonnie Schupp, the school's enrichment teacher who organized the assembly, said she hoped the students would be inspired by Mr. Byers.

"Part of my job is to expose the students to think from this," Ms. Schupp said.

One of those ideas was a NASA plan to build an aerospace plane that can fly at 17,500 mph -- fast enough to carry passengers from the East Coast to California in less than nine minutes, Mr. Byers said.

"If you guys like math or making paper airplanes, you could be PTC helping to make this aerospace plane," Mr. Byers said.

But some students said they learned that being a NASA employee takes too much effort.

"There's a lot of work put into going up into space," said Kraig Danton, 14. "It's pretty hard to make the stuff and be prepared to do it."

Laura Engelmeyer, 13, said: "I like space, but I'd rather work on Earth."

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