Kids go on a mission to Mars

Brothers Zack and Kyle Bonkowski left their home in Wetumpka, Ala., this summer to visit their dad in Carson City. They ended up on a mission to Mars.

"It was fun," said Zack, 14. "I like science. It's interesting - it's a lot better than English."

Zack served as the mission control operator for a simulated launch to Mars on Friday as the grand finale of a week-long College for Kids course offered at Western Nevada Community College.

"Our dad asked us if we wanted to do it, and we did," said Kyle, 11.

In preparation for the computerized mission to Mars, the 26 students studied thrust, rocket design, created their own Mars colonies and launched various types of rockets.

"The knowledge they had to acquire before they could begin taught even me a lot," said Irene Waltz, technology teacher at Fritsch Elementary School who taught the class with Fritsch fifth-grade teacher Gail Bushey. "It was a good overview of math and science principles. Good ol' Newton's Laws came back into play."

Each student was assigned a station with various tasks necessary to carry off the mission. They read their script using the same vocabulary used in a space operation.

"It was fun how we did the script and how we made our little Mars colonies," said Caitlin Gonn, 12. "I learned that it takes nine months to get to Mars and it takes a lot just to get there because there's tiny glitches you have to get over."

To deal with the tiny glitches, Waltz stayed in contact with mission control in Wisconsin - the Marslink program.

Bushey bought the computer program for the school district with part of the $7,500 grant money she was awarded for winning the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science.

She would like to see the program grow next year.

"It's fun but it's academic," she said. "We get in one week what it takes six weeks in the classroom because we can focus on one thing."

Nine-year-old Merrill Asp was impressed with the class.

"I think I made the right decision to go into the class because I had a lot of fun and made some new friends," he said.

Merrill plans to become a chemist when he grows up. Angel Rodriguez, 11, is also leaning toward a career in science.

"I'm really into space and science," Angel said. "There's a lot to learn about the stars."


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