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School kid watching live webinar with Tim Peake

The best STEM inspiration – speaking to a real life astronaut

We need to do more to inspire our children from an early age to develop an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects to improve the number of young people with the qualifications and interest to consider pursuing a job in a STEM field.

In an era when technical and scientific skills are increasingly important in the work force, exposing children to STEM learning in the early years is key. The earlier you encourage your child to embrace their natural curiosity and wonder about the world, the easier it will be to create a positive attitude about STEM and forge their foundational skills for future STEM success.

Which is why when our much anticipated DataFest20 STEM event for kids with astronaut Tim Peake had to be cancelled, our Project Development Manager Neil Brown worked very hard to bring them together in a virtual event instead. We hope that hearing a very famous, but “normal” person talking about their amazing experiences in what could be thought of as the ultimate STEM field – space, and about the path they followed through life that took them there, will be really inspiring for children.

So, thank you, Major Tim Peake, for bringing some of the wonders of space into our children’s minds!

Here is my account of the webinar, which I watched with my kids.

Sitting on a ‘bomb’, enduring 4G’s of pressure with incredible noise and vibrations

As a parent, watching the Tim Peake webinar with my son, I thought he was absolutely brilliant with the kids and came across as such a lovely person! It was incredible to hear about his experiences of going into and being in space. Sitting on a ‘bomb’, waiting for that countdown, 4G’s of pressure, over 8 minutes to get to space. He played a sound recording of the noise and explained that the vibrations were incredible. But once in space, travelling at 17,500 miles/hour – faster than the speed of sound, he enjoyed the amazing and constantly changing views of Earth. Every chance he got, he would go to the view portal and take photographs of the planet below. Experiencing 16 sunrises and sunsets each day as they hurtled round orbit, taking 20 minutes to get from the pole to the equator, your body finding a strange rhythm as it makes sense of the day.

He explained that the Space Station acts as a lab for all sorts of different studies and experiments. Medical studies, studies of metals, viruses, protein crystals. Investigating AI, virtual reality and augmented reality, tech and robots, how humans and robots can work together to explore deeper into the solar system.

The questions from the various school children were great and generated some really interesting answers.

Here’s what we learned from Tim:

A solution for cleaner energy solutions becomes more obvious in space as you realise what an incredible mass of energy the sun is, and that a solar farm in space that sent energy to Earth using lasers or microwaves would be a great solution!

We heard that several different methods of navigating through space are used – but that the Space Station also uses Sat Nav just like we do on Earth! How strange it is to hit two pieces of metal together but to hear no sound because there is no noise in space. How hard it is to leave behind family (two young children) and friends for long periods of time, to do something so risky, but to be driven by the need to explore and take risks to progress discovery – something that Tim feels is part of human nature.

How likely is it that there is extra terrestrial life and we will encounter it?

Incredibly likely that there is life out there, given that there are 100-300 billion stars in our galaxy and there are 100-300 billion galaxies in the universe. There are thousands of planets in the Milky Way alone that are “goldilocks” planets. But the likelihood that we will actually encounter life, given the vast distances we’re talking about? Extremely slim. And also, we may miss other intelligent life by a few million years, as the timescales we’re talking about are also enormous.

Tim’s scariest moment on the mission?

When they were first docking with the space station. They were approaching with auto pilot but a thruster malfunctioned so this was aborted. So they had to manually dock but because of the angle to the sun it was too bright and this caused a lot of problems, and they were going too fast so there was a real danger something could go wrong. It certainly sounded like a scary moment!

What’s it like wearing the space suit?

Wearing the space suit is hard work as every movement takes a lot more effort as it almost presses down and fights back against you, and the first time he put on the helmet he had to fight claustrophobic feelings. That and the terrible realisation that you won’t be able to scratch your nose for 8 hours. With all the many months of practice on Earth, it began to feel secure and normal to wear it, like a cosy embrace. But out on a space walk, staring into the depths of space with only a thin window of glass between you and nothing, was an unnerving feeling!

Further STEM resources for kids

Tim provided some really useful information on how pupils could access valuable STEM resources at www.stem.org.uk/esero while children are currently in a home schooling environment, which also sit well alongside The Data Lab’s own school resources on data & AI.

Read more about the live webinar with Tim Peake in a blog by our Our Project Development Manager Neil Brown.

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