Niagara Gazette

Communities

August 12, 2013

Falls woman finds out she has the right stuff, attends Space Academy

Niagara Gazette — Falls resident Nancy O'Brien received the shock of her life earlier this year. What's developed out of it is something she'll brag about for the rest of her life.

As a middle school science teacher in Cheektowaga's Cleveland-Hill district, O'Brien applied to join Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy, a program which brings science teachers from around the globe together for professional development reasons.

She tried last year and wasn't accepted. She tried again this year and wasn't accepted. She told herself she wasn't going to give up, but, as luck would have it, she didn't need to.

"I told myself I was going to keep applying every year until they accepted me," she said. "But a couple weeks later, I got a call and they said there was enough space and asked me if I wanted to join. I was in my car at the time, and when I hung up, I was screaming, 'I'm going to Space Camp.' "

And did she ever. School ended June 21 and her flight left the Buffalo Niagara International Airport at 4 p.m. that same evening. She spent an entire week in Huntsville, Ala., the home of space camp, working with other teachers from around the world, including a group of four from Saudi Arabia and one from the Netherlands.

Once there, she and her team of 13 others worked on several projects designed not only to simulate space environments, but also to build teamwork and educational principles. O'Brien said she was able to serve as the countdown person from mission control during a simulated rocket launch mission, helped solve problems while being "stationed" at a futuristic moon base and designed a heat shield capable of atmospheric reentry.

The heat shield experiment, she said, is one she is particularly proud of and might consider bringing it back with her into her classroom when students return in September.

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