Day 5 – Friday

Wow! Graduation day already!

Both teams gathered under the Pathfinder rocket this morning to hear some parting words from the director of Space Camp and their team leaders. 

The graduation ceremony started with the playing/signing of the national anthem.     

Each graduating astronaut received a certificate and encouraging words as they return to their home states.   Here, Team Von Lions are affixed upon the stage, ready to graduate.  Way to go, Amber and Brenda! Congratulations, Alex! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Please return to the stage, Team Von Lions, you’re the Most Outstanding Team of the week! 

 Annnnnd, not to be outdone, the Jolly Goddards secured the Outstanding Rocketry award, beating all of the other teams in brainstorming, designing, engineering and launching the best rockets of the week.    

The heartfelt goodbyes and “we’ll stay in touch via Facebook” graced the grounds of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.  





Day 4 – Thursday

Alex and Tre have become good friends, especially during their time in the ISS. They cooperated and communicated so well with Mission Control that they completed almost twice as many checklists as were required in their mission!Amber scoots her way through the airlock, on her way to the exterior of the shuttle.

Using fancy diffraction grating, Alex and Tre identify unknown elements via the spectrum of color that they show.Because their team leader at Space Camp is from Australia, the Von Lions were treated to some vegemite (typically a paste made from vegetable additives and spices) Vegemiteontoast_large It seems like they weren’t fans.

Team Von Lions strutting their stuff (and their nation’s flag) with their Australian team leader.

Team Von Lions had the chance to launch their rockets that they built earlier in the week in a big, grassy field under a bright sky. All 3 USDB astronauts on the Von Lions team successfully recovered their rockets!

Brenda was one of the first to step up and experience the multi-axis trainer (MAT) today. The MAT simulates the feeling of re-entry, when astronauts are flipping and spinning. Initially, these simulators were boxes inside boxes (as opposed to the circular rings seen here). Because the MAT doesn’t rotate the same way twice, astronaut trainees don’t feel nauseated.

Wow! Is it already time for the Von Lions’ third (Charlie) mission!? In this mission, Itzel guided her team back to earth from Mission Control. She did a great job of keeping everyone calm and communicated effectively and efficiently with her astronaut team.AC worked hard in the orbiter, alongside his commander, to fly, guide and land the shuttle successfully (not an easy task!)While Itzel was in Mission Control and AC was in the orbiter, Khadija was out in space fixing a damaged satellite with the other mission specialist. In their Charlie mission, the Jolly Goddards had 2 amazing Mission Specialists (Amber and Brenda). Here they are, suited up and ready to go!


From Mission Control, Alex did an awesome job communicated with Amber and Brenda while they did their extra-vehicular activity (EVA) work on the satellite and exterior of the shuttle.

With all 3 missions completed for both teams, the Jolly Goddards had some down time and were able to rock climb. Naturally, the Utah students were GREAT at it!   Amber with two of her teammates, Kasmine and Kyle.Alex with two of his buddies, Tre and Thomas.

For one of their last Space Camp activities, the Von Lions and the Jolly Goddards joined forces and performed a Sea, Land and Air (SEAL) Operation. Each team obtained their objectives, after getting their proper camouflage and marking their faces with charcoal and ash to help hide themselves from the enemies, they set out to sneak to the tower, seize it, then escape into the woods undetected.



Day 3 – Wednesday

Steven Forney honored us this morning with a presentation on the drones that he builds and programs. Steven is a Deaf technician that is a Rochester Institute of Technology graduate who has loved his experience with computer programming, 3-D printing, and building and testing his drones. His motto is “build it, fly it, crash it, rebuild it” which is a good lesson for us all, especially relevant for all things science. When proceeding through scientific tests, Steven inspired students to try their best, but also be alright with failures and tweaks throughout the process, as those will ultimately lead to a better final result.

Victoria Garcia is a Deaf, systems engineer who works for NASA. She gave a riveting presentation about her work with NASA, elements of communication that she implements every day, and the amazing work she’s done with the Orion capsule.

Victoria explained the effects of slosh dynamics which means paying attention to liquids that are utilized by a rocket, but can have an effect on the overall dynamics of rocket propulsion. Check out this great article for more information on slosh dynamics. Victoria also explained a rocket’s pogo dynamics, which is the vertical push and pull of the rocket as it launches and moves through our atmosphere and into space, which also is a large component of aerodynamic heating which is why rockets’ body must be efficient and aerodynamic.Itzel and I had the honor of being interviewed by Huntsville’s local news station, WHNT, and provided insight into the brilliant “classroom” that Space Camp provides, as well as the amazing linguistic components that the students experience. The story will be on the local news this evening.

The Von Lions team had their first mission today. As they prepped and got excited to begin, our 3 Von Lions astronauts quickly posed for a picture. In this mission, Itzel headed to the orbiter’s cockpit and helped with guiding the shuttle through space.AC and Khadija did a stellar job in mission control, communicating and directing the goings-on for the mission and keeping everyone calm.  While the Von Lions had their first mission, the Jolly Goddards proceeded to learn about the ISS and typical shuttle’s Environment Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). This system is tasked with removing excess waste, and recycling use-able waste. The students needed to create a filter that would neutralize a liquid’s pH, color and turbidity.

Did you know? Excess waste must be dumped while in the sun or it’d freeze to the side of the shuttle.

After the Von Lions finished their Alpha mission (successfully!) the Jolly Goddards took to Mission Control, the ISS and the orbiter to prove themselves in their Alpha Mission.      Alex safely returning from his Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) successfully repairing a damaged light fixture on the exterior of the shuttle.“Hi Mom (and all of USDB), I’ve safely returned from my EVA and it was GREAT!”  In their Bravo mission (that’s right, 2 missions in one day!) the Von Lions, after replenishing their energy with some lunch, carried out their responsibilities in proper form. Itzel and Khadija made rubber bouncy balls as their experiment in the ISS, just like ISS astronauts carry out experiments during their 6 month stays in the ISS.  AC communicated splendidly with the pilot as the commander and successfully guided the shuttle and its crew through a tough mission with many anomalies.As the Von Lions trudged through their difficult Bravo mission, the Jolly Goddards went to the Pamper pole which is a telephone with large metal staples, soaring to a peak height of 32 ft. After reaching the top, the Jolly Goddard members were asked to perch themselves atop the pole, turn around and jump to tap a nearby hanging rope.



  After both groups finished the Pamper Pole, the Jolly Goddards launched their rockets. It was a blast! 

After their rocket launch, the Jolly Goddards ate some dinner and headed to Aviation Challenge to continue their training as fighter pilots, and to prepare for their big “dogfight” tournament tomorrow. The students will be competing for a special award tomorrow… of luck to our USDB astronauts!



Day 2 – Tuesday

Getting right to it, our Tuesday begins with the Jolly Goddard team working on their 2nd (Bravo) mission. For their Bravo mission, Alex will be working in the International Space Station, Brenda will be working in Mission Control and Amber will be working as Mission Specialist 1, fixing lights on the exterior of the shuttle, and doing satellite repair.

Whew! Lots of switches to learn and remember for the commander, pilot and mission specialists within the orbiter20140501-120829.jpg




While the Jolly Goddards worked on their Bravo Mission, the Von Lions built their rockets that they’ll launch later this week.

Following their rocket construction, the Von Lions began training for their third (Charlie) Mission. In this mission, AC is the pilot and will be in charge of flying and controlling the orbiter while in space. He’ll also be responsible for landing it after the mission (not an easy task!).

Khadija will be working from the Canadarm and fixing the instrument bays to repair a damaged light on the exterior of the shuttle.The real Canadarm is actually weaker than the Canadarm that Khadija is working on and couldn’t lift its own weight if it was on earth.   

Alex and the rest of the Jolly Goddards began their fuel cell activity and learned how electricity and power are generated and used on the ISS. Through a vast solar array, and the power of hydrolysis, the ISS is powered in many ways. Alex and his team worked on conducting electricity through aluminum foil in salt water, to build a fuel cell that would hold a few volts of electricity.

  Electrolysis with water, Epsom salt and aluminum foil demonstrates the same components used for the fuel cells on the ISS. On another power-related note, did you know that the ISS has a robot that can fix many nominal items on the exterior of the station named Dextre? 287299main_dextre_iss017_big_full

Watching Amber’s satellite work from Mission Control. 

Amber cruising around in space, en route to fix an exterior light on the shuttle.   

Building a new space suit for the astronauts to use that is waterproof, puncture-proof and easy to get off and on. The team was divided into the age old competition; girls vs. boys.


The first test was the waterproof test, to see how the suit held up when submerged in water.

The second test was the heat and radiation test in which the suits were tested for amount of radiation received, and the temperature sensitivity of the suit.

The next test was to see if the suit could easily be put on and taken off of an astronaut (in this case, an apple).

The final test was the puncture test…….the boys were a bit nervous.

Tonight was the Jolly Goddards’ chance to try scuba diving. Here, Brenda makes the swim across the dive tank to begin her training.  DCIM103GOPRO


While the Jolly Goddards enjoyed scuba diving, the Von Lions spent some time doing team building activities like rock climbing, as well as learning how to control and fly the flight simulators. 


Closing the evening with a shot of the Pathfinder in the center of the Space Camp campus.

Day 1 – Monday

Good morrrrrrrrning, Space camp!!

After some breakfast, the Von Lions crew sat down to get information regarding their positions for their Alpha mission, AND learned some Australian sign language!


For the Von Lions’ Alpha mission, Itzel is the pilot and will be in the orbiter flying the shuttle. AC will hold down 3 positions for this mission! He will be CAPCOM which is the main line of communication for those in space. CAPCOM remains in Mission Control, is typically an ex-astronaut (and knows the stress of space) and is in charge of “keeping the peace” in Mission Control. AC will also be the Flight Director, who is the head honcho around Mission Control. AC’s final role is EGIL (electrical guidance illumination leader) that controls the electrical components of the spacecraft. Khadija will also have 3 jobs, her first is as the FDO (flight dynamics officer) which is in charge of propulsion, fuel/power (and the ultimate duty to NOT make the rocket explode), GNC (Guidance navigation control) making sure the rocket hits its “windows” leaving/re-entering the atmosphere, and finally EECOM (environmental emergency conditions) which ensures the proper weather conditions before and during the launch.

One of the first components of a mission that the Von Lions learned was Mission Elapsed Time (MET)  which shows the time from launch, whether it be before launch (- time) or after the launch has happened (+ time).

This picture shows the various dynamics and information for a mission 44:33 after its initial launch.

Whew! We’ve been busy! Anyone need a bathroom break?

Itzel learning the control panel to be a great pilot! The Jolly Goddards are working on interplanetary travel, improving teamwork and communication, and not “floating away” when transitioning between planets. 

Maui to Kauai- another challenge to develop the Jolly Goddards’ creative thinking schemes, communication and cooperation. They were tasked with the job of switching five of their team members from island 1 to island 2, as well as five members from island 2 to island 1.

  Brenda helped during the debriefing answering questions about lessons learned, challenges overcome and how important communication is for team efficiency.

Team Von Lions has arrived to Area 51 and is ready for some aliens and team building.

The Von Lions are being debriefed on their first challenge, Tubular Trouble, in which the Von Lions must escape from jail.

“Escaping from jail” with lots of communication, teamwork…….and laughter.

Team Jolly Goddards is now training for their Alpha Mission. Brenda is a mission scientist doing “research” in the International Space Station, Alex is doing satellite repair as Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) 2, working from the Canadarm and Amber will be in Misssion Control helping with communication throughout this mission.

         The Jolly Goddards are building their own rockets to launch later this week!

 For their Bravo mission, Khadija and Itzel will be working together in the ISS.

AC is the commander for the Von Lions’ mission, hopefully he learns the buttons well.

 After a quick dinner, the Von Lions headed to the ~25 foot diameter dive tank, all very excited to try the nearly “zero gravity” environment that scuba provides for astronaut training.




 Itzel is the first student I’ve seen successfully launch an underwater missile 

AC has a message to all the GREAT teachers at USDB

  They were exhausted, but had a blast!

Away we go!

USDB is on its way! After our students’ awesome parents dropped them off, we proceeded through security and made our way to our gate. After the students patiently (kind of) waited, we boarded our plane.

For Alex and Amber, it was their first time flying, but all of the students thoroughly enjoyed gawking out the windows and being in/above the clouds.

We’ve officially arrived to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. The students are eager to get checked in, see their rooms and get some dinner.

The students’ “habitats” for the week!

 Our USDB astronauts joined their groups (Von Lions-Khadija, AC Itzel, Jolly Goddards-Alex, Brenda, Amber) and concluded their first night with information about leaving the atmosphere, re-entry and the geometry of aerodynamic skip.

A big “good night” from all the USDB astrononauts!

How excellent! AT&T donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to help Salt Lake City teachers!

It’s an amazing act of generosity, a warm gift of inspiration and a HUGE help to Salt Lake City teachers; AT&T fully funded 162 projects on in SLC, to help teachers throughout the city, and to impact the future of nearly 18,000 students!

After a spouting of endless thank yous, SLC teachers geared up to implement their educational plans, and I was contacted by At&T as an “innovative teacher” and user of Donors Choose. The following interview, run by ABC4 (SLC’s ABC affiliate) resulted, and for the experience, I am truly honored and blessed.

So, another HUGE heartfelt “THANK YOU” to AT&T, and let’s continue to make a positive impact on our world!

Exciting news for the 2014-2015 school year!

The school year is about to begin and I’m thrilled to have lots of the same brilliant minds to mold as I did last year (I teach 7th-12th grade) but also to have 10 new students!

To make for a stellar year, I’m looking into experiments and projects to launch USDB into the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering winners’ stand, to send students to Space Camp, and to incorporate innovative, interesting and engaging experiments all year long, utilizing Modular Robotics and Vernier Software as the workhorses of my science curriculum.

I’m also thrilled to announce that I’ll be returning to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL with several 9th grade Deaf students, but need your help to get them there. Follow this link to help support Deaf students going to Space Camp.

Lastly, I have joined Twitter and am hoping to raise awareness for Deaf Education as a whole, but also for science education as well. Follow me @DeafScience12 and help spread the word!

Day 5 at Space Camp

The Von Lions team awoke this morning groggy from their late night Escape and Evasion mission (which they successfully completed without TOO many captured teammates) and rolled their suitcases, duffel bags and exhausted bodies to the cafeteria to eat their final meal as a team. They laughed and hurriedly signed what they liked most about Space Camp, who they’d miss and how social media will keep them connected. Tears were shed and hugs were shared……..and then it was time to graduate.20140502-144714.jpgAs they marched proudly towards their graduation, thoughts must’ve circled their heads; “Can I?” “Will I?” “What if” are but a few, but as they gazed into the Alabama morning sun, the wheels were definitely turning. They had not only completed a week as an astronaut, but had completed it well, with obstacles (planned and unplanned) thrown their way, missions which amassed anomalies, and even engineered (with great ability) space suits, water purification devices and rockets!

20140502-144721.jpgThe Von Lions proudly stood as the National Anthem was played overhead and they silently and respectfully waited as other astronauts in training proceeded to the stage. Their team was called, they all rose in unison and valiantly took their place on the stage in front of fellow astronauts, parents, interpreters and teachers…….now was their time.

20140502-144810.jpgEach recently dubbed astronaut received their proper graduation certificate, accolades and team patch that they’d design as a conglomerate. This conglomerate didn’t know it’s parts just 5 days prior, nor did it know the hurdles it would overcome, but they had done it. The Von Lions team were now officially astronauts.


In addition to the wide-toothed smiles, joyous tears, high fives and hugs, the Von Lions team was applauded and recognized for their extraordinary grasp of  engineering. The Advanced Space Academy Commander’s Cup patch denotes the perfect ending to an incredible week for the Von Lions team. Their intelligence, teamwork and communication amounted to many newly formed friendships, good times and long-lasting memories!


Day 4 at Space Camp

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Today began with a double dose of Space Camp missions. Both the Bravo and Charlie missions were today, immediately following breakfast, so the Von Lions team definitely had their work cut out for them!

Meseret and Kyle worked hard in the ISS to switch the right switches and to push the right buttons in coordination with their orbit around earth, as well as keeping lines of communication open with mission control.

NASA’s ISS travels its earth orbit at 17,500 mph and is circles earth 16 times per day! Using one of various sites, you can spot the ISS from any location on earth, given the time of day (typically dawn or dusk, when the sun’s light isn’t too bright, but can reflect off of the solar panels of the ISS) and time of year. While Meseret was in the ISS, Aaron was busy with his extravehicular activity. His role in the Bravo mission was to operate the Canadarm efficiently to fix the instrument bay of a satellite as well as repairing a damaged light atop the satellite (probably from space debris, like in Gravity). Aaron got into his spacesuit (armed first with an ice vest because even in space, working so hard and in such thick suits makes astronauts sweat!) then crawled through the airlock to climb to the exterior of the space shuttle. Upon his safe return to the shuttle, Aaron sent USDB his well wishes and signed a quick hello to his friends before disrobing to his regular space suit and finalizing his checklist before the mission ended.


Today (May 1st) was also Interpreter Appreciation Day, so the astronauts finished their Bravo mission, then thanked their interpreters; Dean, Angie and Aaron. These three interpreters have worked incredibly hard this week to help the Von Lions be very successful. The very thoughtful Von Lions team thanked their interpreters with cards signed by the team and gave them each a tin of space putty that can tear, bounce and hold secret messages. Thank you Dean, Angie and Aaron!

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 After a successful Bravo mission and a heart-felt thank you session for the incredible interpreters that’ve graced the Von Lions this week with their signing knowledge, the Von Lions took a short break to get some water, and use the bathroom. In their absence, mission control was quiet, darkened and seemed to be prepping itself for the Charlie mission that was to come for the Von Lions team.

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For the Charlie mission, the Von Lions were a well-oiled machine, ready to tackle anomalies (the word NASA uses for “problems” because “problems” has too strong of a negative connotation) and seemed to have a good grasp of teamwork and communication in their toolkit of skills acquired this week. Well, in the Charlie mission, they truly shined by using all of the tools they had!

Walker was the communicator in Mission Control who spoke with the astronauts and scientists in the ISS, one of which happened to be Ronnald, so the communication between them went well…..until the Space Camp administrators decided that the Von Lions would benefit from one of the toughest anomalies that could occur. Due to not one, but two, video failures, via a fuzzy, non-consistent feed, both Walker and the ISS scientists felt the struggle of weak communication signal and quickly adapted to the spotty chances they had to relay messages and worked through the difficulties.

While Walker and Ronnald sifted through the anomalies incurred by the purposeful administration, Meseret and the rest of the Mission Control team worked hard on anomalies of their own. Because they had trained for single and multiple anomalies that may light up their Caution and Warning (C&W) screen, the administrators also deemed them worthy of some very difficult anomalies including multiple anomalies occurring at once, some that required conversation and discussion in Mission Control, and some that required the astronauts on their EVA, or the already stressed out commander and pilot in the cockpit of the shuttle!

20140501-120709.jpgThough countless anomalies arose, caused frustration and resulted in certain mission positions trumping others in final decisions being made, the Von Lions team worked through them and landed safely to complete their very tough Charlie mission!

Rocket Launch Time! After their Charlie Mission knocked some of the pep from their step, the Von Lions proceeded to the sunny, grassy field near the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to launch the Estes model rockets that they’d built earlier in the week. Not only did this activity provide respite from the stress of a mission, it provided some time in the sun, acquisition of vitamin D and an abundance of things that explode!

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After the excitement of the rocket launch, the Von Lions ate a quick lunch and headed to the simulators which allow them to feel the weightlessness of the moon! On the moon, astronauts weigh 1/6th of what they weigh on earth, so the Von Lion astronauts enjoyed the “moon walk” they took by floating across the moon’s surface, some of them daintily, others of them heavy-footed, and some even chose to spin!

In addition to the moon walk that the Utahn astronauts got to enjoy, they had the option of stepping up to a NASA and Space Camp favorite, the multi-axis trainer. This circle inside of a circle inside of a circle construction gives the feeling of dizziness and disorientation often associated with re-entry. Though NASA astronauts use a square design now, this simulator is often used for pilots/commanders to re-orient their bearings as they soar through the earth’s atmosphere.



20140501-222218.jpgAnother facet of astronaut training is weightlessness (zero G) and “increased” weight (called g-force). Though the astronauts train on something a bit different than the SpaceShot, the Utahn astronauts were able to enjoy the SpaceShot which arranges the passengers in a seated circle around a tower, then launches them (increased g-force) to the top of the tower. Once they arrive there, the astronauts are taunted then “dropped” so that they can experience a moment of stomach-dropping weightlessness!

Because the Von Lions were a part of a hybrid program, Thursday night’s activity, after much preparation all week in patrolling, silent communication (the Deaf astronauts were already pros!) and tactics in maneuvers to overtake a base, and to place a bomb or secure a facility, the Von Lions had their Escape and Evasion mission in which they had place a bomb under a specific F4 helicopter in the pitch black, then also had to secure their base from invasion. In addition to being tracked by enemies resulting in capture and “taking out” the enemies via sneaky tactics, the Von Lions spent most of the evening crawling on their stomachs through the Alabama woods, silently communicating and working efficiently together.20140501-223932.jpg