4th and 5th grade have out-of-this-world field trip to Gatorland and Kennedy Space Center

For several years, 4th and 5th grade students have taken a field trip to Gatorland and the Kennedy Space Center, and every single year it’s been out of this world.

“The kids all love it,” Lower School STEM Teacher, Mrs. Shannon LoRusso, said. “They call it the best field trip ever. I even have dads fighting every year to chaperone it!”

This year was no exception and the trip was packed with activities.

On the morning of Thursday, February 2nd the students and chaperones visited Gatorland, a theme park and wildlife preserve in Orlando. While there, they got to feed and pet goats, learn about alligators from a field guide, including their unique physical features, mating habits, and how to be safe around them. Afterwards, they saw alligator wrestling and even got to pet a baby alligator. “The alligator wrestling was one of my favorite parts of the trip,” said 5th grader, Sophie Dietche. “It was really cool to watch.”

After Gatorland, the group continued east to the star of the trip, the Kennedy Space Center, where they would spend the night. Once there, the group started their space adventure at the rocket garden which included a scavenger hunt to learn what each different rocket was used for. This was followed by a special talk by John Creighton (Capt, USN, Ret.), a former NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions. “The kids really enjoyed that and had a lot of good questions. Their favorite question is always ‘how do you go to the bathroom in space?’,” Mrs. LoRusso added with a laugh.

After Capt. Creighton’s talk, the group went to the Atlantis building, where the Atlantis orbiter is displayed along with many different learning zones, including experiments related to all the inventions NASA’s done (such as baby diapers and water filters), simulators, a mini model of the International Space Station, and a slide that mimics the way the rocket comes in and lands. “I think the simulators were the best,” said 4th grader Ethan Creadon. “Especially the one where you get to land the Atlantis. I landed it ten times, and only crashed about 50!”

“The best moment, though, is at the entrance of the Atlantis building where they have a giant screen that is showing a movie about the shuttle missions. After the movie, the screen is lifted and everyone discovers the shuttle was right there behind the screen,” said Mrs. LoRusso. “It’s the part where I hear the most gasps and it’s always my favorite part.”

After that, the students and chaperones settled down to spend the night inside the Kennedy Space Center under the Atlantis orbiter. “Sleeping under the orbiter was so cool! It was my favorite part of the trip,” said 4th grader Zachary Vaughn. “With the other school group, there were about 150 kids there,” said Mr. LoRusso. “They were all soo pumped from the excitement of the day, that I would be surprised if we got more than five hours of sleep.”

The next morning they learned about the upcoming mission to Mars. According to the Kennedy Space Center website, NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. “They had so many questions for this part, because as much as I can teach them about the history of space travel, the future is something I don’t know much about yet,” said Mrs. LoRusso. “I’m so glad they were so interested, because their generation is the one that will be going to Mars in ten to twenty years.”

Later, individual groups were free to roam the space center with chaperones. Some took a tour to see the launchpads and talk about how some are leased out to organizations such as SpaceX. Some went to the Saturn 5 building where they learned about moon missions and saw actual consoles that simulates what happened when the moon rocket took off (“The windows even rattled,” Mrs. LoRusso said). They were even able to see the actual Saturn 5 rocket which is so long that it runs entire length of building. Here they also saw a show about the moon landing and got to touch a real moon rock.

“It was great for them to get a real life basis for what we’ve been learning in school, and to also understand how special it is that TWO of the moon-walking astronauts have graduated from Farragut and we have a piece of the moon on our campus also,” said Mrs. LoRusso.

After they learned about what it takes to become an astronaut, Mrs. LoRusso talked to them about other job opportunities with NASA. “If you like programming, you could work for NASA,” she explained. “If you like building things, you could work with NASA. Even if you just like writing about space, there’s a place for you with NASA. You don’t have to go into space to have a job dealing with space.”

When she asked the students if they want to work for NASA, a couple of the responses included:

“I don’t think I’d want to actually go into space,” said Ethan. “I’d rather work in mission control. I think I’d get sick floating around in space.”

Not Zachary, though. “I wanna be in the rockets! I wanna see space,” he said.

Thank you to all of our chaperones, teachers, and students, and also to Gatorland and the Kennedy Space Center, who all made this a fun, hands-on, educational field trip!