ESA

Conquering the universe… of youth

In an age when there is no terra incognita left on the surface of the globe, space is one of the last refuges for man’s exploring instincts. It is also a powerful stimulus to the imagination, particularly for the younger generation, which is notoriously fascinated by the mysteries of the universe. The European Space Agency (ESA) is determined to nourish and foster this fascination through an astonishing diversity of educational and cultural activities.

With its ESA-Kids site (www.esa.int/esaKIDSen/), the European Space Agency opens its doors to children as soon as they are old enough to master the basics of using a computer. The site offers all sorts of activities, often divided into several levels, so that children can learn while playing. There are, for example, multiple-choice questionnaires in six languages on topics as varied as What is gravity? and Climate change. Jigsaw puzzles are there to be assembled, with pictures of the ISS (International Space Station), or the galaxy NGC 2440, or an infrared snapshot of La Niňa – the oceanographic phenomenon associated with climatic anomalies. There is also a news bulletin in the form of brief reports linked to corresponding games. Furthermore, there are colouring books for toddlers, interactive games, explanations, free wallpapers and screensavers.

From education kits to summer school projects

For older children, there are a number of supplementary tools. For example, the ISS Education Kit, which is designed for 8- to 10-year-olds (there is also a version for 12- to 15-year-olds), and which is available to teachers at no charge. This kit, in the form of an A4 binder pack which was prepared in collaboration with teachers and tested in classroom use before being launched, contains all sorts of multimedia material, interactive elements and posters, as well as a teacher’s handbook to enable the instructor to get the most out of it. There is also a mISSion possible kit, for primary school children, with all kinds of exercises and activities.

High school students have at least as much made available to them. One example is the astronomy exercises that the ESA has prepared in collaboration with ESO (European Southern Observatory) and which are available online. Here young enthusiasts can get their first taste of space science research. These are downloadable files of not more than 10 Mb (there are also lighter, lower resolution versions) with all the original data, supplied by the ESA, for solving a real problem, as well as the methodology leading, step by step, to the solution. High school students can thus, for example, measure the angular expansion velocity of the Cat’s Eye Nebula by comparing two images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994 and 1997 at certain wavelengths. A special site devoted to observation of planet Earth (www.eduspace.esa.int/), combining geography, physics and chemistry, is available in six languages. The ESA also supplies images that can be used as back-up material (education images) and, more generally, periodically offers space science training activities for teachers.

Then there are the university students, who are given special attention by the Agency as the breeding ground for tomorrow’s space scientists. For them there are all sorts of workshops, conferences, summer courses and work-experience opportunities. Some student associations can join the ESA Education programme directly, or form partnerships with that initiative. Job offers and scholarships are regularly advertised online. To learn more, just set out on your own exploration of this site, where a profusion of welcoming worlds awaits the apprentice space traveller.

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