A special mission

Soar­ing stu­dents: Clock­wise from left, Rachel Butty, 16, Tyler Mal­lon, 15, Jonath­an Seitz, 16, and Nich­olas Wor­rell, 16, are the as­tro­nauts in a shuttle at the North­east High School SPARC pro­gram. They are headed to space to try to curb a killer as­ter­oid

Some North­east kids saved the world a few weeks ago. They blas­ted in­to space and des­troyed a gi­ant as­ter­oid that was head­ing for Earth.

It wasn’t easy, and just like any space mis­sion, it had its risks.

One young as­tro­naut was badly burned when an at­tempt to fire a rock­et at the as­ter­oid from the moon failed. An­oth­er got ra­di­ation sick­ness when as­tro­nauts suc­ceeded in des­troy­ing the big space rock. 

They were whisked away for med­ic­al treat­ment by mem­bers of the Burholme Am­bu­lance Corps after they landed — dur­ing sixth peri­od at the Med­ic­al, En­gin­eer­ing and Aerospace Mag­net School at North­east High.

The “space mis­sion” on April 25 and 26 was so real­ist­ic that one stu­dent in al­gebra teach­er Joe Con­nelly’s class re­as­sured an­oth­er, as they vis­ited mis­sion con­trol, “They’re not really in space.”

Only vir­tu­ally.

The mag­net school’s Space Re­search Cen­ter, or SPARC, played out its 48th mis­sion over two days, us­ing a script writ­ten by flight man­age­ment man­ager ju­ni­or Jeremy Cruz.

The mis­sion of as­tro­nauts Tyler Mal­lon, 15; Jonath­an Seitz, 16; Rachel Butty, 16; and Nich­olas Wor­rell, 16, was to blast an as­ter­oid that was threat­en­ing Earth.

Cruz, 17, a vet­er­an mis­sion script writer, went for big and fast as well as dan­ger­ous.

He en­vi­sioned a mile-wide as­ter­oid hurt­ling to­ward our home world at 30,000 mph, one that would pack the punch of a mil­lion-mega­ton bomb when it hit.

“It would des­troy hu­man­ity,” he said.

It had to be stopped.

Eazy-peazy, right? Just head for the moon, have your handy ro­bot launch a rock­et at the as­ter­oid and boom, it’s time to go home, kick back and or­der pizza.

But no, Cruz didn’t write the mis­sion to be easy. After all, things can go wrong in out­er space.

On the moon, that’s what happened. The rock­et launch didn’t work out as planned, and one as­tro­naut got burned badly. 

The backup plan was for two as­tro­nauts to take out the as­ter­oid dir­ectly by land­ing on it and blow­ing it up. That worked, but one as­tro­naut was severely sickened be­cause his space suit didn’t pro­tect him from the as­ter­oid’s ra­di­ation.

The two “in­jured” as­tro­nauts were kept alive un­der dir­ec­tion of the mis­sion’s med­ic­al team — Kay­la Little, 17; Jes­sica Kir­gin, 17, and Jen­nifer Ho­ang, 16.

This year’s mis­sion was ded­ic­ated to Neil Arm­strong, the first man to walk on the moon, and the vic­tims of the Sandy Hook mas­sacre.

Last year’s mis­sion was ded­ic­ated to as­tro­naut and North­east nat­ive Chris Fer­guson. This year, the cap­tain of the last shuttle flight called in­to to check on and en­cour­age the SPARC mis­sion.

Stu­dents worked in shifts through the two-day mis­sion, and 15 stayed in the school overnight, said Mar­garet Kar­p­in­ski, dir­ect­or of SPARC and the mag­net school.

“They live for the overnight,” she said. “They totally en­joy it.”

And they get to work with some great equip­ment, too, in­clud­ing a 21-foot mockup of a shuttle or­bit­er, an Apollo train­ing cap­sule provided by NASA and mis­sion con­trol con­soles as well as ro­bot­ics and elec­tron­ics labs.

Along with Kar­p­in­ski, the stu­dents were guided by Con­nelly, ro­bot­ics ad­viser Car­ole Niemiec and school nurse Anne John­son.

Jes­sica Hat­tina, 17, served as mis­sion spokes­wo­man. Shareef Al­warasneh, 17, was the mis­sion’s ad­min­is­tra­tion man­ager. Chris­ti­an Lat­tan­zio and Lawrence Delapena, both 17, were com­puter man­agers. Joshua Carey, 18, and Brad Jac­ob­son, 18, were the ro­bot­ics man­agers. En­gin­eer­ing man­agers were Sam Bar­riskell and Tara Behr. Bri­ana Fer­guson served as an al­tern­ate as­tro­naut.••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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