Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit
Montse Cordero, left, with her housemate Alex Carney, right, in front of the vacuum chamber at Johnson Space Center.
July 27th, 2012
12:20 PM ET

Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston, Texas. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program here. Need to catch up? Check out all her previous posts here.

I'm starting to get the feeling that all of these posts start the same way, but it's for a good reason: Every day is absolutely amazing in its own way!

Today started early again. Before school, our host took us to see some big vacuum chambers used for testing at Johnson Space Center. There are two chambers in the building: one, that is pretty gigantic, where they will test the James Webb Space Telescope, and another one that’s smaller.

The smaller one is actually human rated, so they’ll test space suits there (with people inside!). The big one takes over 12 hours to reach testing level of vacuum, and the smaller one will take more than eight. They are both quite impressive, we really enjoyed seeing them and learning about them.

Then we were off to school, where we finally started working on our project. We split up in different rooms, one per team. The Maroon Team worked on deciding which method we would choose to get our ship to low-Earth orbit. After lots of options and lots of arguments and analysis we decided to use a rail-gun system, which basically means that we will use electromagnetic energy to shoot our ship into space. Our decision was mostly based on re-usability, efficiency and cost.

We also had a couple of speakers. The first talk was all about mission control, with international space station electrical and thermal systems group leader Paul Gosling. He explained to us how mission control centers work, and a bit about their history.

Our second talk of the day was by Justin Kugler (@phalanx), who talked to us about design considerations. He spoke briefly about what the international space station's design takes into consideration. He referred to each of our teams and helped us by telling us things we should take into account while planning our missions.

The Maroon Team got to take him to our room and bounce our ideas off of him. He gave us a lot of feedback and advice, so that was very very helpful, besides being super-interesting.

Right before leaving school we had a debrief, in which each team got to explain what they’d done for the day and ask other teams questions, in case there are things they need to know from others parts of the mission to build their own.

After dinner, several of us went to Kemah Boardwalk, which is kind of a mini-amusement park. We went on tons of rides, some of which made us quite dizzy, while others were just plain scary, but they were all tons of fun!

Tomorrow should be a long day; we won’t get picked up until 11:30 p.m. So we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you in the loop.

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