Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Students study lunar samples

From Album LP4
Trinity Academy eighth-graders Gabrielle Fatula and Steven Wargo engage in a mock tug-of-war over a display of Apollo lunar samples on loan from NASA for Catholic Schools Week at Trinity Academy in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The display, together with meteorite samples and student-made displays will be open for public viewing Wednesday, February 2, from 6 to 8 p.m.

John E. Usalis

The students at Trinity Academy in Shenandoah won't have to go to the moon to see lunar soil and rocks. The items came to them.

Thanks to Trinity science teacher Michael Kowker, samples of the lunar material collected by the astronauts of the Apollo space program will be on display to the public Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the school as part of Catholic Schools Week.

Protected in a plastic case, the samples will provide students and visitors to the school a chance to see some of the lunar materials up close, which for many would be their first opportunity.

"The lunar samples are not the largest in the world, but I thought it was a neat idea to get them here and let people see the moon," Kowker said in his classroom, which has many space-related images on the walls.

Kowker's connection to the lunar materials came through a workshop he attended in the summer at Penn State University Park.

"The workshop was sponsored by NASA and the Pennsylvania Space Consortium," Kowker said. "It was a weeklong seminar on lunar exploration. There were about 30 teachers in attendance. We did investigations on the theories of lunar formation, the structure, chemical composition, some of the new discoveries, such as they found water, and, of course, the Apollo missions. There was a representative from NASA at the workshop, and we got certified to request these samples from NASA in Houston."

The samples were provided through NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center and were collected by the astronauts from the Apollo 14 through 17 space flights. Kowker said there are about 80 similar sample displays that are available to be loaned to schools around the country. Elementary and high schools get the smaller samples, while colleges can get larger samples.

"I don't know if it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it was something I never had to request the samples, but once I got my certificate, I thought it would be great for the kids and the community to see," Kowker said. "One of the samples is a rock from the highland regions along the equator of the Moon collected in Apollo 16. They think that rock is 4.5 billion years old, which would be from the original lunar crust."

Kowker said many people remember watching the Moon landings and the astronauts walking on the lunar surface, and this display brings them closer to what they saw.

"I was a just a pre-schooler at the time when they landed on the Moon," Kowker said. "Maybe I sat there and watched it, but I've done a lot of reading and could see the excitement of the whole thing, and 'Wow! This is the Moon.'"

Read the full story, HERE.

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