Aiden Breakie has been fascinated by outer space for as long as he can remember.
"I just like science and I've had books about space for years," the 10-year-old explained. "It's neat to know what's out there. It's just so beautiful. And I think it will be, like, the final frontier for at least the next 20 years."
Breakie and his fellow outer space enthusiasts in Bunker Hill Elementary's fourth- and fifth-grade classes got a rare treat on Jan. 8, when the school hosted "Mission: Space," a one-night, hands-on exploration of astronomy-related science at nearby Appoquinimink High School.
"Whenever I teach astronomy to my students, I have to use textbooks and photographs to tell them about what they can see in the sky, instead of being able to show them," said Bunker Hill STEM teacher Amanda Bowen, who co-organized last week's event with paraprofessional Mari Biscieglia. "One year, the students asked me if they could bring a telescope to school at night to look at the stars. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, so we got the community together and came up with this activity."
The event included a powerful telescope that parent Paul Knight set up outside for star gazing, but the biggest attractions were indoors, including a 22-foot-tall inflatable Planet Earth and an inflatable STARlab planetarium, both of which the Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation set up in the high school's gymnasium.
ILC Dover, which makes NASA spacesuits, also set up a display where students could try on actual gear worn by the astronauts.
At other stations set up in the high school's cafeteria, students could examine actual rock samples from the moon, use iPads to explore a variety of space-related apps, launch their own Alka Seltzer-powered rockets, construct paper planispheres and aluminum star maps and even purchase space-themed games and the timeless favorite: freeze-dried ice cream.
"My favorite was the giant inflatable globe because you could go inside and see the Earth backwards, which felt weird," explained fourth-grader Courtney Candy.
Her mother, Danielle, said she hoped the event would help spark her daughter's interest in outer space.
"It's just a great opportunity for the kids to have fun and learn, especially because it's so hands-on," she said. "I've even learned some new things; like that the NASA spacesuits are made in Delaware. The whole event is really interesting."
"It's definitively a fun experience, just being here, meeting everyone and doing all the crafts," he said. "You can tell the teachers put in a lot of hard work setting this up."
More than 200 students and their family members attended the inaugural "Mission: Space," which could be expanded to a districtwide event next year, Biscieglia said.
Page 2 of 2 - "We wanted to start with just our school first and see how it went, but the turnout has been great, everyone is smiling and the kids seem to be having a blast," she said. "Who knows, maybe the next rocket scientist will come from the students who were here tonight."