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Space comes to students through NASA specimens
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Hunter Hendricks (left) and Mahetab Bayoumy, Martinsville Middle School students in the NASA SEMAA program, study lunar and meteorite samples on loan from NASA. (Contributed photos)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Students in Martinsville City Schools’ Science, Engineering, Math & Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) program got a glimpse of the moon up close recently.

NASA loaned lunar samples and meteorite pieces to the program. The specimens were returned to NASA last week after students studied the pieces in the aerospace education laboratory at Martinsville Middle School, Earth science classes at Martinsville High School and fifth-grade classes at Albert Harris and Patrick Henry elementary schools.

“This is a real extension of the curriculum. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids,” said Anne Stultz, the division’s 21st century programs coordinator who oversees the Martinsville SEMAA site. “It has really impacted them, to get up close and study something that has actually been on the moon or in space.”

The lunar specimens cost $264 million per gram of rock and are among more than 2,000 samples collected during six Apollo missions, Stultz said.

“They are considered a national treasure because they are irreplaceable,” she added.

To borrow them, Stultz had to attend a special training at the Air and Space Center in Hampton to obtain “lunar certification,” fill out “pages and pages of paperwork” with NASA and follow strict security procedures, including keeping the briefcase of samples with her literally at all times. When not in use in the classroom, Stultz had to deposit the samples in a locked, immovable safe at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

The classroom lessons included a SmartBoard program where students “could see exactly where on the moon each sample came from,” Stultz said.

Students also learned that the 12 astronauts who have walked on the moon and collected the samples have all been men.

“We put a challenge out there to the girls to change that,” Stultz said.

Martinsville Schools host the only NASA SEMAA program in Virginia and one of just 16 in the country. However, Stultz said, the national SEMAA office is exploring the possibility of expanding the curriculum program to include nearby school districts, making them satellite sites sponsored by the Martinsville SEMAA site. That will depend on federal funding approval, she said.


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