By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian
The countdown was on.
“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. GPM!” yelled Simpson Elementary School third-graders as they watched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory launch through a live stream from NASA’s IV&V facility in Fairmont on Thursday.
The Harrison County third-graders were invited to NASA’s IV&V facility to watch as the GPM was launched aboard a Japanese H-IIA, No. 23 two-stage rocket from Tanegashima Island, Japan. Before the launch took place, the students participated in several hands-on activities to learn more about the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.
Eric Sylbania, NASA’s IV&V program project manager for GPM, said holding the event, which was also open to the public, let the community participate in the launch. He said the program wanted to integrate the work they do with their educational outreach.
Sylbania said his daughter Lindsey is in the third grade at Simpson Elementary in Bridgeport.
“We invited the whole third grade to come up and be active participants in the launch,” he said.
The original launch time started at 1:07 p.m. Thursday but was postponed until 1:37 p.m. Because of the change in time, Sylbania didn’t know if the students would be able to stay for the launch.
But when 1:37 p.m. came around, the third-graders were there and able to watch.
The purpose of inviting the class was to expose the students to the STEM fields. Sylbania said kids in the North Central West Virginia area have a great opportunity to get involved in these fields with the facility being in Fairmont.
“We want them to recognize that they can have an active part, growing up here, in a role with what NASA does,” he said. “To a lot of kids, that’s a big dream to become an astronaut.”
The third grade teachers of Simpson Elementary — Erica Romano, Cindy Baker, Erin Bowers and DeAnna Mewshaw — were excited to bring their students to the launch watch.
“I think it’s a good learning experience for them to see everything with NASA and have the hands-on experience,” Romano said.
The activities, which were put on by NASA’s IV&V, included everything from building small, plastic straw rockets to creating their own rain gauges.
“I think it’s great. There are hands-on activities, and someone other than us is talking to them,” Baker said.
When the kids were told they were coming to NASA’s facility, Bowers said they got really excited, and the excitement carried over when they arrived.
“They’re excited to be able to do all the hands-on activities,” she said. “It’s making science come to life for them instead of just in a textbook.”
As for the students, Daniel Keith, a third-grader at Simpson Elementary, said he has always enjoyed anything that has to do with outer space. This was the first time Keith, who wore his NASA astronaut Halloween costume to the launch watch, has been around something dealing with NASA.
“I really like it because it teaches me more about all that NASA does,” he said.
Keith said going into the portable constellation lab was his favorite activity of the day.
“It teaches me a lot about constellations,” he said.
Another third-grader, Katlyn Swiger, said her favorite activity was also the portable constellation lab. Swiger said she enjoys science, and coming to NASA was an awesome experience.
“There’s really mysterious stuff about science, and it’s cool,” she said.
Swiger said one of the things she learned during the activities was what the word “dynamic” means. She said she was excited about the launch of the GPM because she had never watched one before.
Sylbania said GPM is a joint effort between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). He said the goal of launching the GPM is for it to add to a constellation of satellites that are going to take measurements of precipitation around the globe.
“That information is going to help scientists better understand the water cycle, rainfall predictions and things like hurricane predictions,” Sylbania said.
The satellite will also, in an extended way, help when looking at the impact rainfall has on agriculture.
NASA’s IV&V has done a launch watch like Thursday’s before and is looking to hold others in the future.
“Our goal is to build on the success of each one,” Sylbania said. “My personal goal would be to send out an invitation to all the schools in Marion, Harrison and Monongalia counties and get as many involved as we can.”
Email Emily Gallagher at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.