Middle schoolers set sights on the moon with help from UGA, Air Force Reserve

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Casey Mull
  • 94th Airlift Wing

Two teammates high-fived as their rocket launched towards the large kickball representing the moon dangling high in a Georgia dogwood. 

Meanwhile, a gaggle of youth and adults were splashed as a space module landed in an inflatable pool a few yards away. 

Inquisitive smiles emerged and hands shot up to ask an Air Force space operations officer about his work managing the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, which at this moment were ensuring those youth had accurate directions to get to the event and the appropriate geofence around their latest social media story. 

Middle school students engaged with multiple areas of Air Force operations through Georgia 4-H’s Mission: Make It, an event for middle school students to follow the engineering design process and replicate real life experiences at Rock Eagle 4-H Center recently. 

An executive officer for the 22nd Air Force, Maj. Benjamin Calhoon, served as the capnote speaker, tying the theoretical to the practical with his experience in space operations.

A part of the University of Georgia, 4-H is the largest youth development organization in the United States. Mission: Make It is one area of Georgia 4-H addressing the lack of scientists in the United States by increasing skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The one-day event brings together middle school youth and adults from across the state. 

After an opening keynote session by a UGA faculty member of astronomy, youth tackled the challenge of building a rocket to leverage the Earth’s gravity to propel toward the moon. While some youth built a rocket, other students designed and constructed a landing vehicle to safely land at sea. 

“Realizing the Air Force’s role in space-related activity, this is a great opportunity for young people to match career exploration with hands-on learning,” said Kasey Bozeman, UGA extension specialist and event coordinator. 

The engineering process modeled decisions Air Force and other space leaders face as the youth engineers determined what supplies they needed to build their craft. Youth had limited resources in which to purchase their construction supplies from adult facilitators. Youth selected materials such as paper, tape, plastic pipes, cups, paperclips and straws. Youth built the rocket and the launch vehicle to get to the moon. Their landing vehicle protected an egg to represent an astronaut returning from space as it was dropped into a pool of water, representing the sea. The programming commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 moon landing.

After celebrating their construction, launches, and landing, Calhoon discussed the advances of the Air Force’s role in space since the 1969 moon landing. A previous assignment had Calhoon overseeing the daily operations of GPS. He shared the role and impact of the flight responsible for the daily operation of the 35 GPS satellites and how they assist individuals every day on their smartphones, watches, cars, and other devices needing a GPS satellite. 

“Realize that GPS touches so many things,” Calhoon said. “The opportunities to get involved in careers with GPS are growing every day. There’s a lot of opportunities to have and to be had but you have to focus on education to get your foot in the door.” 

One individual, Drew C. from Madison, Ga., had already done her homework on GPS. Her 4-H project focused on GPS technology. Her interest stemmed from geocaching, an outdoor scavenger hunt using GPS-enabled devices, when she was younger. 

“I have learned more ways that science and astronomy can be fun, and that it’s more than just GPS,” said Drew. “I learned more about physics and about how reenters the Earth and even using the GPS to locate the astronauts landed back in the sea.”