During the Space School week, staff and mentors assess the pupils on the basis of their performance on the allocated tasks and activities, their skills both as a team leader and a team player, and their general attitude, and 40 are then invited to attend a selection workshop. Following a rigorous assessment process 10 pupils are then chosen to go on a week long Learning Journey in October to Houston, Texas.10 pupils are chosen from the Space School week in June to go on a once in a lifetime trip to visit NASA in Houston.
The Learning Journey is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the selected pupils. During their visit to NASA they are able to visit Rocket Park to see the Saturn V Rocket – the most powerful rocket ever built and operated. On the VIP tour pupils can often visit the Mission Control Center. The 2015 cohort were lucky enough to see the astronauts on board the International Space Station preparing for a phone call from US President Barack Obama, before then being given special access to the Apollo Mission Control Center to sit in the Flight Director’s chair.
Other areas pupils may visit on the NASA tour are the Robotics testing area and some of the pupils in 2015 were lucky enough to test a Modular Robotic Vehicle (MRV) that NASA are currently working on, giving them a chance to try out actual equipment that astronauts may be using one day on Mars! In the last few years the tour has culminated in a visit to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the second largest swimming pool in the world, where astronauts perform a lot of their training prior to going on their missions to space.
Although the visit to NASA is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the week-long Learning Journey, the fun doesn't end there, and the pupils have a jam packed programme of activities. Pupils often visit the annual Wings Over Houston air show, enjoy star gazing through one of the largest telescopes in the USA at the George Observatory, visit local universities and engineering companies, and attend a number of talks from NASA engineers and astronauts.
The week is an amazing opportunity for the pupils to meet inspirational figures, such as astronauts, engineers and scientists who work for NASA, or other impressive engineering companies. Over the course of the week the 2015 pupils managed to meet four astronauts and countless engineers and scientists, each one with their own story about the journey they took to work where they are today. The pupils took full advantage of the opportunities to talk to everyone they met, and many commented that the chats really helped them in deciding what they would like to study at University.