Representative Terri Sewell brings NASA exhibit to Morris Elementary

Grayson Taylor asks the kids if they know what’s in the pouch he’s holding. “Ice?” offers a child in response. It’s green beans, but Taylor says he wishes it was ice cream.

Students at Thelma Smiley Morris Elementary School walk out of school on Friday mornings and are told to line up by their teachers. Some look at the astronaut suit that awaits them. Others are anxious and dance in their line.

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Taylor is an event coordinator with NASA. He explained to the children how long the astronauts stay on the station (six months) and asked them what they think of each food (“Some astronauts really like their macaroni and cheese”). He’s from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

the NASA destination station is an interactive NASA exhibit designed to inform and excite the public about the International Space Station. U.S. Representative Terri Sewell brought the exhibit to Montgomery.

The children take pictures with their teachers, who put their heads through an astronaut suit. Then they will enter the structure or visit Taylor Station.

Principal of Thelma Smiley Morris Elementary School, Denitta Easterling, as part of NASA's Destination Station interactive exhibit, visits Morris Elementary in Montgomery, Alabama, Friday, May 13, 2022.

Inside the parking lot structure, children line up against the wall. The carpeted walls and floor are dark blue. The screens inside speak of space exploration. The students line up to one side, some moving, others watching the video intently. They look at their friends.

At the end of the room there is a space rock that children can touch. The rock is one of the only Apollo 17 moon rocks accessible to the public, according to Thursday’s statement.

NASA's Destination Station interactive exhibit visits Thelma Smiley Morris Elementary School in Montgomery, Alabama on Friday, May 13, 2022.

When the children come out, they are asked if they have touched the rock

The school children say they were interested in space before the event – they also say they plan to go to space.

First graders Casey and Bella answer questions about their enthusiasm for space in unison. “Yes…” they both say when asked if they want to walk on the moon.

Director Denitta Easterling explained that it is important that children are exposed to different careers, such as being an astronaut. She mentioned her own son, who was exposed to science at a young age, and now in high school, he’s still interested.

Before this visit to the space center, NASA and cybersecurity were not his son’s interests: “He wanted to be a teacher – but that’s all I said about the exhibition – because it is all he saw was teachers,” she said.

Students view a NASA space walker suit as NASA's Destination Station interactive exhibit visits Thelma Smiley Morris Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala., Friday, May 13, 2022.

“So a love for science and math will open doors for them that they didn’t know existed,” Easterling said of NASA’s visit.

Easterling explained how events like NASA and other aspects of STEAM (science, technology, art, and math) education help to equalize students, especially those who may come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. She said, as soon as they can understand what that means, it’s important that students are exposed to careers like being an astronaut or a scientist, so they know what it means to “just have the opportunity to go beyond the walls or they live in.”

“Because the sky’s the limit for them,” Easterling said.

Jemma Stephenson is a children’s and education reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at [email protected] or 334-261-1569.

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