Education News

How Students Follow In Astronauts’ Footsteps – Literally

As part of their summer vacation, 50 area middle school students designed a durable space suit and rubbed elbows with the first African American astronaut to walk in space. The kids from all over Houston got to sharpen their math and science skills at the University of Houston.


The middle school students participating in the annual ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp shared a commonality — their love of science and math.

Dr Harris says others might call them geeks, but that’s okay.

“We put them in an environment that it’s safe for them to be smart, because a lot of them are the smartest kids in the class. And because of that, they might get teased about being smart. In this program, we celebrate intelligence. We celebrate education, and so we put them in an environment of kids that have like minds.  And when you put those minds together, I tell you what, the sky’s the limit in terms of what comes out.”

Mignon Smith is national program director for the camp. She says students had to compete for enrollment.

“They write a 250 word essay. We look for students that have an interest in math and science. They’re selected through a process, and depending on whether or not they’ve been accepted, then they’re here today.”

Dr. Harris, a UH graduate, saw the kids compete in a contest that required them to create a prototype of a space suit with simulated materials that could withstand the impact of a center punch dropped on it.

“Ready? Here we go … three, two, one … ” 

The winning swatch with the fewest number of layers was designed by Joseph Dowdall of Lanier Middle School.

“I went to use foam, which absorbs shock as well as hard shock, which we put after that, which would help absorb even more shock. And to give it a real world application, we put foil, which would help possibly absorb the heat and keep it away from the astronaut’s body, and then foam to keep the astronaut comfortable.”

Perry Segura, a member of the UH faculty and executive director of the camp, says she’s amazed at how the students get involved.

“We really stuff the two weeks with a lot of opportunities; it’s a very packed two weeks. The kids tell us at the end they’re really tired, but they also tell us, ‘Could we do this for four weeks, or could we come back for another few weeks anyway — which is very gratifying.”

She says it’s no secret that most of the jobs in the future will require employees to have strong math and science skills.