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ACC hosts space-inspired program for kids

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Michelle Lucas, founder of the educational nonprofit Higher Orbits’ Go for Launch program, talks to students about their next activity on Wednesday at Alpena Community College.

ALPENA — Students on Wednesday said they’d take a bag of ring pops, dumbbells, cell phones, and pictures of loved ones with them to Mars.

Organizers of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based Go for Launch program asked students to decide on a total of 10 items that would accompany them on their trip to the red planet. Thirty eighth- through 10th-grade students from around Northeast Michigan have been attending the three-day program hosted by Alpena Community College and led by the group Higher Orbits.

“I’ll be honest, with what they want to bring into space, it’s less about what they want to bring into space and more about the teamwork and conflict resolution,” Michelle Lucas, founder of Higher Orbits, said.

The space-inspired program helps students develop teamwork, communication, and leadership skills.

Students have spent the last couple of days coming up with team names, developing a mission patch for their team, and participating in other space-themed activities. They’ve heard from former astronaut Don Thomas, who flew into space four times while he worked for NASA.

“I think it’s very interesting, and I liked meeting Don, since he’s actually been to space,” Ashley Anderson, a 10th-grader from Indian River, said of the program.

Thomas said the program also gets students excited about math, science, engineering, and medical careers — or whatever else they dream about doing.

The student teams also will develop ideas for potential experiments to conduct on the International Space Station. One team has already decided it would like to see how mushrooms grow and decompose in a zero-gravity environment.

Officials will select one experiment from this week’s program to compete against other winning experiments proposed by students who have participated in the Go for Launch program in other parts of the state.

Lucas said she came from a community that had limited resources but went to college and worked as an astronaut instructor and in Mission Control. She founded Higher Orbits because she wanted to inspire the next generation.

“I want them to realize that the world has bigger opportunities than they perhaps already considered,” she said. “I’m not trying to turn every one of them into a rocket scientist, but I think space is a great way to inspire people to just dream bigger.”

Although the nonprofit has completed more than 50 Go For Launch events across the country, this week’s program marks the first time Higher Orbits has offered Go For Launch in Michigan. Through a partnership with the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturing Association, Higher Orbits will hold several other Go for Launch programs in the state.

Located on the ACC campus, TRIO Talent Search, a federally funded program that provides academic services for first-generation or low income students, paid the camp fee for its members to attend.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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