A trip to the moon, almost

Area teacher gets opportunity to attend NASA seminar in Houston

Fort Plain teacher Patrick Petty, right, in "mission control" of a simulated space mission. "Our group was monitoring the status of the 'spaceship' and crew from the ground, while the other half of our team was in 'space' carrying out a mission," Petty said. (Photo submitted)

FORT PLAIN — A science teacher at Fort Plain Jr./Sr. High School had an out-of-this-world experience this summer attending a prestigious professional development program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Patrick Petty attended the LiftOff Summer Institute in June in which the theme of the institute was Legacy of Apollo, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United States landing on the moon.

He was one of just 50 educators from across the nation who was selected for the opportunity.

“I cannot speak highly enough of this outstanding opportunity,” Petty said. “In addition to meeting world-class educators from around the country, we had the opportunity to meet Apollo XIII astronauts, crew members, engineers and countless other NASA employees.”

Petty said highlights of the experience included presentations by Fred Haise, who is one of the surviving Apollo XIII astronauts, and seven-time spacewalker Jerry Ross, who is NASA’s record-setting frequent flyer.

Photo submitted Fort Plain teacher Patrick Petty, right, with Apollo XIII astronaut Fred Haise.

He said he also heard from several scientists and engineers, including retired NASA engineer from Norm Chafee. Chafee was a propulsion specialist who worked with NASA for more than 50 years on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space shuttle projects.

“He was part of the team that designed the propulsion system for the Saturn V and gave us an in-depth tour of the rocket,” Petty said. “Listening to him was like listening to the people who made Columbus’s ships.”

Petty also had the opportunity to tour various laboratories in which he toured the mock-up facility where astronauts do a majority of their training. The tour gave him insight of what it’s like to work and live in space.

One of the exercises that Petty participated in stationed him in mission control of a simulated space mission.

“Our group was monitoring the status of ‘spaceship’ and crew from the ground, while the other half of our team was in ‘space’ carrying out a mission,” he said.

Fort Plain teacher Patrick Petty tests a training device that astronauts use to simulate a pressure suit. "This demonstrates the difficulty of moving your arms and manipulating small items while being in a space suit," Petty said. (Photo submitted)

The program was sponsored by NASA’S Texas Space Grant Consortium, which selects teachers from across the U.S. who will increase their knowledge of space education through the professional development program.

Petty has used what he learned from the experience in his classroom. He hosted a week-long space-themed day camp in July for elementary students, with his high school students serving as counselors.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m excited to incorporate it into my classroom instruction,” Petty said.

Fort Plain teacher Patrick Petty with a rover prototype for an extended mission to the moon or Mars. (Photo submitted)

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