History and Space/Past and Future Come Together

A blog post by Chris Sniezek, Manager (Esther’s Place).  To read more posts from Chris, click here.

Hello, hello! It’s shop manager Chris again with another blogpost. What a month this last month has been. A lot of change has occurred, but thinking about change (along with the Jews in Space exhibit) made me recollect my life before I devoted myself to history. Before history, I loved space with a passion and wanted to be an engineer who worked for NASA. In 2005 and 2006 I was a part of the Walkersville Elementary School Space Day team. It was an interesting experience that I still look back fondly on.

In 2005, as a fourth grader at Walkersville Elementary school, I joined the fourth-grade Space Day team with nine or ten of my classmates. Space Day is sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center with the goal of educating millions of students on the excitement of space exploration. Thousands of students from across the country enlist others to create teams that compete to earn a trip to Goddard for the week. Once a team is formed, they are provided a scenario by NASA with a problem to solve whichever way they can.

My first year participating in Space Day, the challenge was to create an all-terrain exploration vehicle. We needed to create and build an exploration vehicle that could traverse snow, water, sand, and had a functioning excavation device. We came up with the design that looked similar to a turtle and actually was able to traverse the different terrains. The base makeup of the vehicle came from an amphibious RC car and an erector set which we pieced together to create the solution to the problem. Unfortunately, our design did not win so we did not earn the ability to go to Goddard and mingle with scientists and astronauts. The next year, however, was different.

The next year, in fifth grade, I rejoined Space Day along with four other classmates for another try at winning the NASA challenge. This year, all fifth-grade teams were provided the problem: “create an item retrieval device that can extend up to or beyond 3 feet and operates under its own power.” The team and I drew up designs for our solution which was to create the object we called “The W.O.O.F.E.R” an acronym for “When Outside Of spaceship Fetches Every Resource” (we forgot that spaceship began with an S so we just left that out of the name). Our device is even more pertinent because our team name was the Golden Retrievers.

To make the W.O.O.F.E.R, we deconstructed a large plastic light saber, stuck a wire through the center if the device that attached to the extending handle and the grabbing hair clip on the end. Once the handle was activated, the goal was to have the arm extend out at least 3 feet, grab and item like a pencil, and then retract with said object. Just like a good science team, we needed to replicate successful results and record the final process before submitting our design to NASA.

Of the hundreds of teams who participated in Space Day from across the country, only ten were selected to travel to Goddard. Our team was one of the ten so on May 4, 2006, my team and I traveled to Goddard and spent the rest of the week presenting and discussing our design with the other teams, meeting astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Exploring the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and meeting different senators.

I picked up many different books and awards while visiting Goddard, (many of which I still have) that I then read through and through. Never would I have figured my current love of history and my previous love of space could join, but now that the Jewish Museum has the Jews in Space exhibit, it seems like they have!

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