Baldwin-Whitehall teacher witnesses NASA launch

My PSEA Login



Baldwin-Whitehall teacher witnesses NASA launch

Voice: November 2017

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, middle school science and STEM teacher Debbie Reynolds marveled at the expansive complex.

It is the largest single-story building in the world – equivalent to 55 stories. And it happens to be where major spacecraft are assembled.

Reynolds, who teaches in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, Allegheny County, is a participant in NASA’s Space Educator Expedition Crew Program. She was one of 28 teachers and other professionals who traveled to Florida in April to learn about the U.S. Space Program and witness the launch of the SS John Glenn from Cape Canaveral. The unmanned craft transported supplies to the International Space Station.

“I just wanted to take everything in so I could share that experience with my students when I go back to school,’’ she said.

Reynolds’ students didn’t have to wait that long. She livestreamed her experiences on Periscope, giving her students a front row seat to the adventure of a lifetime.

Reynolds’ journey into space exploration began last December when she applied to participate in the Space Exploration Educators Conference – a program for educators who teach various subjects and who want to learn how to use space to teach across the curriculum.

After that experience, Reynolds was selected to participate in the Space Educator Expedition Crew Program. She was originally scheduled to go to Florida in March for the launch, but bad weather delayed it until April.

One lesson that Reynolds brought back to the classroom is how different talents and fields of study are interconnected when it comes to space travel, as with so many other life pursuits. Engineers work closely with mechanics, and they both work with mathematicians, artists, and many other professionals on spacecraft design and construction.

“Whatever they learn – whether it’s ELA, math, science, social studies, or art – it’s all interrelated, and we need all those pieces to come together,” she said. “I want them to see the bigger picture outside the bubble we live in – that there is a huge universe out there, and they are an integral part of that.”

On launch day, Reynolds was positioned about 500 feet away from the launch pad.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I’ve never gotten to experience anything like it.”

Reynolds said she was grateful to J.E. Harrison Middle School for permitting her to participate in the launch and to the Space Educator Expedition Crew Program for selecting her.

She also said the opportunity came at a pivotal time, noting that the middle school students passing through her classroom today could play an integral role in a U.S. mission to Mars.

“It’s really important,” she said. “We’re reinventing our whole discovery of space and space exploration.”