In August, a group of science educators had the opportunity to visit the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) situated in Noordwijk in the Netherlands. This centre is the largest branch of the European Space Agency (ESA), and is a test centre and hub for European space activities. It has the responsibility for the technical preparation and management of ESA projects and provides technical support to ESA’s ongoing satellite, space exploration and human space activities.
On their arrival at ESA the participants were greeted by Robert Willemsen from the ESTEC Communications Office and given an overview of the main facilities of the Agency spread all across Europe. This was accompanied by a detailed presentation explaining the various projects which ESA presently has on board. These include extensive research programmes for satellite development, probes and robotics. In one of its projects, ESA produced a model of the Earth’s gravitational field that is the most accurate to date. Through the Galileo satellite navigation system the Agency also aims to develop Europe’s own navigation system which will eventually be independent of other countries. Other projects include the development of telecom programmes and integrated applications. Lastly, the function of launchers, namely the Ariane 5 used to launch satellites in space, was explained. After the presentation, the group visited the laboratories where the design and testing of satellites and materials takes place. At the Erasmus centre the educators toured the Erasmus Highbay, where returned satellites, various prototypes and instruments used in different missions are kept. A 3D virtual tour of the International Space Station (ISS) followed under the guidance of Andrea Conigli.
Since ESA was established more than 30 years ago, another of its important tasks has been to inform the public about the latest advances and discoveries in the space field and to develop programmes that will inspire young people to pursue careers in science and technology. Helen Page, Head of Primary and Secondary Activities at ESA, explained in detail the numerous educational programmes designed specifically for European students aged from 6 to 28 to help them gain and maintain an interest in science and technology. These have the long-term objectives of contributing towards the creation of a knowledge-based society and providing a qualified workforce for the Agency that will ensure Europe’s continued leadership in space activities. The Maltese educators were able to observe samples of the material that both students and teachers are provided with during these programmes, which at present are only open to member countries, and that can be used to assist with the learning process.
The visit at ESTEC ended with an extensive guided tour of the Space Expo. There, the participants had the chance to go into a real size model of the different chambers that make up the ISS. Teachers also experienced what astronauts feel during a launch into space and observed real satellites and parts of launchers, as well as the different equipment used by the astronauts during their space missions and training.
On a separate day the group also visited the NEMO interactive science centre found in Amsterdam. It is the largest science centre in the Netherlands with five floors full of exciting things to do and discover. There, the educators assisted to exhibitions, theatre performances, films, workshops and demonstrations that were all directly connected to science and technology. This visit enriched them with lots of ideas all from the realm of inquiry based learning which they can use with their students in class.
The trip was organised by MASE and supported by the Maltese Council for Science and Technology (MCST).