Rendezvous with a comet


As planned, we had our BDRA day as astronauts on a space mission in the Challenger Learning Centre which is part of the award winning UK National Space Centre, the premier attraction dedicated to developments in space exploration.

Enter the astronauts into the Challenger beaming with smiles and lots of expectations. Time for group formation; group one mission control; group two space station crew. Both groups are assigned medical officers who have no training and knowledge in the discipline. Apparently, this does not pose any danger to crew members in a simulated space environment. The first and most important thing before takeoff is attending a briefing session where there is a likelihood that the technology might fail. But in this session you learn about the differences between short and long comets, the reason why comets exhibit visible tails, the orbiting periods of comets, and the gases they release. You also learn about the importance of Awareness, Attention, Adaptability and Respect for fellow crew members in any space mission. You need to be however warned that, not all questions from crew members can be fully answered by the Space Commanders.

Time for takeoff 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 fire the control system, a loud roar is heard with a thick smoke and team BDRA is orbiting space.

What an experience and a great eye opener. For me what was interesting about today’s “edutainment” was the amount of preparation and knowledge that is required by crew members to make a space mission successful. I also found the various roles such as sending a robotic probe to gather data to be sent back to earth, working as a navigator, providing life support, communicating with mission control, analyzing data etc quite absorbing. Without doubt the experience was not only fun but also good for team building, leadership, decision making, effective communication and collaborative learning.

For the record Comet Gilly is now an identifiable “rock” orbiting space for the next million years.

So what lessons did we learn? The following is what I gathered from the BDRA mission crew:

  • The importance of clear communication even when under pressure;
  • The fact that we shouldn’t need reminding about helping others;
  • That life threatening situations need to be taken seriously;
  • That, in teams, sometimes some members are given slightly more interesting roles, other times they get rather boring ones. A clearer brief is important for allocating roles that each member of the team finds interesting and challenging and can perform best;
  • Finally, that in any collaborative learning situation it is important to keep the overall objective / mission in mind and then ask the question “how does my individual role fit into the overall team objective”?


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