Accompanied by three staff, the students enjoyed a range of engineering challenges and astronaut training exercises at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Science faculty leader Toula Tripaydonis says the camp was more than worth the wait.
“They pushed themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of, so I saw some very shy girls who developed the ability to work as team players, and build their confidence.
“They took away the fact that they could do it, that girls can do anything if they put their minds to it...” she says.
“They really came away with a sense of ‘this is important, and I never realised that there’s a whole industry out there that could be a possible pathway.’”
The training exercises included a ride in a multi-axis rotator – the spinning chair seen in countless space movies, and a “gravity chair” that simulated the experience of walking on the moon.
“The multi-axis rotator was looking at different forces that they would feel under pressure when they’re being shot into space and some of the other conditions that they would be faced with...” Tripaydonis says.
“They did a simulation of walking on the moon, so they experienced what it would be like to have less gravity, and so they got to be harnessed up and they would jump on this simulated surface and achieve greater heights than they can here on Earth.”
Another simulation had the students strap on scuba tanks for some pool diving.
“They dove down and experienced the pressure which they would also experience if they were out in space, that everything would be so much harder to move when you don’t have those sorts of forces acting on you. They loved it,” Tripaydonis says.
The students also tried their hands at various engineering challenges, including building a miniature Mars rover.
“It had to do more than just run across a rugged surface, it actually had to go across and pick up the Moon rocks, or Mars rocks, and bring them back,” Tripaydonis says.
“It had to perform a function, so they had to think wisely about what materials they used, how big to make it and whether it could actually pick up these rocks too.”
“Another engineering challenge was that they had to design a safety suit for an egg, which would be put under extreme heat and pressure.
“So they were given materials that they had to put together to be fire retardant, and then they went outside and they tested the egg behind their barrier of materials ... and they watched and saw if the egg would explode, or if it was protected by their particular barrier.”
The trip’s boot camp-like atmosphere tested the resolve of students.
“They’d just come out of a whole term of school, so they wanted to have a little bit of downtime and then we were on a plane over there and they were working hard from the get go,” Tripaydonis says.
“So, 7am they were up and they didn’t get back to bed until about nine. So it was full on, [but] by about the third day they were loving it.”